David Harte says he hopes to see the Tokyo Olympics postponed until later in 2020 to give all athletes involved “peace of mind” amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
He spoke to The Hook on Thursday following a call with the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday along with 220 members of international athletes commissions from around the world.
Harte is currently secretary of the European Olympic Committee Athletes Commission as well as being co-chair of the European Hockey Federation Athletes Commission and sits on the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s Athletes’ Commission.
The organisers in Tokyo affirmed they still plan to go ahead with the Games on the original dates with the event set to get underway on July 24.
While all the hockey spots in Tokyo have long been confirmed, just 53% of athlete spots at the competition have been allocated.
The mid-event cancelation of the European boxing qualifiers this week means more athletes are in limbo about what happens next. For those that have qualified, training worldwide has almost universally been impacted with the Irish women’s collective training at a complete halt for the time being.
In such a context, Harte’s personal view is it is unfair on the athletes to face into potentially the biggest competitions of their lives – attempting to fulfill the Olympic ‘faster, higher, stronger’ ideals – in such circumstances.
“I really hope a postponement would be in place to allow proper qualification to take place, to give peace of mind and mental wellness to those still looking to qualify and those who have already qualified.
“I can see the IOC perspective that they want to show athletes they are doing what they can with the info they have from the World Health Organisation to see if the Games can still go ahead.
“On the flip side, there is little guarantee around a couple of aspects, the main one being qualification. Numerous qualification events have fallen by the wayside due to the virus and no real sign of when these qualifiers can then take place.
“There’s 47% of places at the Olympics still up in the air. That was a huge talking point and an obvious concern for athletes and their representatives from around the world.
“If you look at it in a fair way – which you would hope is what the Olympics stands for – you want an equal playing field for all. Those suffering most from a lockdown have a disadvantage right now compared to athletes who can freely train in their countries.
“It’s different right down to different countries and then their different federations. The answers [about what happens next] that came back were all a bit too diplomatic for my liking.”
Harte, though, says rearranging the Olympics is a far more complex task than for other big events on the agenda with wide-ranging impacts for all 33 sports involved.
For starters, the contract to host the Games states it must take place in 2020. Move it into 2021 – like UEFA did with soccer’s European championships – and it opens up a whole can of worms for each sport’s governing body.
The consequences affect so many people’s personal, athletic and professional lives.
“People ask why you can’t just push it into 2021 but I don’t think it’s as simple a solution as that. There are 33 different sports which all have their own domestic, continental and international calendars in 2021.
“From my perspective hockey, it will have a huge impact on the Dutch club league and then trying to accommodate the Pro League. It will be a complete and utter mind-boggler.
“I have complete empathy to the governing bodies about how they are going to manage it and what strategies they try to put in place, predicting what’s to come for something that is evolving every day.”
There is also the macro-economics at play. Japan Olympic Committee Board member Kaori Yamaguchi said the Tokyo Olympics should be postponed because athletes are unable to prepare adequately because of the pandemic. Given his position, the local stock exchange suffered a 16% hit that day.
For Harte, he sees his role on the various athletes’ commissions as one of a communicator.
With so much noise going on and the situation changing hour by hour, he says: “the role is purely to get the correct information out to the athletes across all the disciplines and to reassure them as best as possible that the IOC is putting the health of the athletes, volunteers and spectators to the fore.
“They are liaising closely with the World Health Organisation who, ultimately, will be making the decision if the Games are to go ahead or not.”
To that end, the athlete365 website set-up by Zimbabwean swimmer Kirsty Coventry is a key portal while Harte has praised the Irish group – led by Shane O’Connor and co-ordinated by the OFI’s Heather Boyle – as being highly functioning in “their care of the athletes and their love of the Olympics”.
While the Irish men’s team are not going to the Games to play, Harte is accredited and plans to attend as one of the candidates for the IOC’s athletes commission. For now, he is bunkered down in Utrecht in social distancing mode with the Dutch Hoofdklasse on hiatus
He did get some training sessions in at the local park with his twin brother Conor before he had to return to Belgium with an impending lockdown in place.
Very happy to announce my candidacy for the IOC Athletes’ Commission election, aiming to be elected at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. I really believe in the mission of the IOC AC in placing athletes at the heart of the Olympic Movement!! #AthletesFirst pic.twitter.com/feUKRDPmbg
— David Harte OLY (@daveyharte) January 7, 2020
Like the EY Hockey League, Harte does not know yet whether there is any hope of completing the current campaign with SV Kampong.
“All matches are to be cancelled against April 1 initially and then it was extended until the Easter weekend. As a governing body, I can’t imagine how they can organise the logistics of it all.
“The news also came through that no matches in the FIH Pro League will be held in Kampong in the Pro League with that competition going on hold until May 17. My gut feeling is things are being pushed back further and further and the biggest fear is there won’t be a resumption of the Hoofdklasse and we may just run into a new season in September, depending on what happens in the Olympics.
“I was planning to make my way over to Tokyo for the lobbying for being elected toward the IOC’s athletes commission. That’s also in doubt now because we don’t know will happen and still trying prepare for that.
“I also have another life-changing event coming up in June with myself and Lynn’s first child due; it certainly puts an interesting spin on the summer!”