reDo you know how many days until the Olympic Games start? Precisely 200. Imagine it. The darkness Of the Tokyo skyline. A lonely runner running up a giant ladder, torch in hand. A roar Of the 60,000 fans inside the National Stadium Of Japan. Then a raging lighting. It will be something Of sight … if it happens. Meanwhile, this year’s other sporting mega-event, the European Soccer Championship, is just five months away, but there is still an expectation that millions Of fans will be able to safely travel to 51 matches in 12 European cities.
Back in the real world, Japan has closed its borders until the end Of the month, the Tokyo metropolitan government has asked the central government to declare a state Of emergency, and most Of Europe is in an increasingly strict lock down. More and more it feels like an act Of faith, rather than science, to wait for the Olympics and Euros to unfold with all the family trappings, as if the last 12 months were just a bad dream. There are already echoes Of the grand finale Of 2020. The World Indoor Athletics Championships, scheduled for China in March, have been delayed again.
The British Boxing Control Board has canceled all fights in January, while the backlog Of English football matches grows by the day. The Lions tour to South Africa is also in question, and all parties agree that a tour without hordes Of traveling fans is neither desirable nor commercially viable. In fact, as we approach a new year, it’s time to face another harsh truth. The sports landscape looks much more 2020 than we expected a month or two ago, but with a brutal twist: it seems that it will be the poorest and most marginalized who will suffer the most. Of everything.
On the bright side, various sources within the International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association insist that the Tokyo Olympics will take place in some form in 2021, despite challenges from 11,000 athletes from around the world gathered in a single place. There is simply too much money at stake for it not to happen. Surely the same applies to euros. But both events are likely to be scaled down and shed many Of the peripheral joys that make attending big sporting events so much fun.
But we must not ignore the fact that Covid restrictions are hitting athletes in the poorest countries the most. In Papua New Guinea, for example, there is only one high-throughput training facility, which is currently a coronavirus isolation center. It has meant that Dike Tour, a national hero who hopes to become the first weightlifter to compete in five Olympics, had to train in a makeshift shipping container without a roOf during her country’s rainy season.
The situation is even worse for the best marksman in the country, Danny Wanma. He has not been able to access the ammunition and therefore, for most Of the year, he has been “shooting dry”, practicing the movements without actually firing.
Meanwhile, when it comes to grassroots activity in Britain, the situation is also bleak. We all know the benefits Of exercise and activity for people’s physical and mental health. However, during the first lock down, an Active Lives survey found that nearly 14 million people in England got less than 30 minutes Of exercise a week, a measure that includes everything from brisk walks to high-intensity interval training. Worse still, it was an increase Of three million compared to the same period last year.
That survey It also found that the pandemic had disproportionately affected certain marginalized sectors Of society, in particular Black Asians and ethnic minority groups and lower socioeconomic groups. With much Of the country back at Tier 4, this winter’s numbers are likely to be even worse.
Last week the Save Our Sports campaign warned that much Of the sport and activity sector, which employs almost 600,000 people in the UK and contributes £ 16bn to the economy annually, was struggling. According to the Sport and Recreation Alliance andactivee, there are thousands Of swimming pools, leisure centers and gyms that fear they will not survive an extended period at level 4 without the help Of the government.
Of course, the big question mark here is how quickly people can be vaccinated, although it hardly inspires confidence when the government repeatedly overpromises and fails to deliver. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has claimed that life could return to normal after Easter. But that would require around 2 million vaccines a week, while around 300,000 are currently being provided.
One last point. Just before Christmas, the government awarded UK Sport£35252 million to help British athletes prepare for the 2024 Paris Olympics. You can understand why. UK Sport has been a rare success story, and politicians love to enjoy the reflective glow that comes when a nation wins medals.
However, even Olympians have to start somewhere, be it in poorly lit swimming pools or dirty sports halls. In October, the government provide£100100 million to help publicly owned leisure facilities, many Of which are in the poorest parts Of the country, stay afloat. The fear is with the rising national debt and higher priorities elsewhere, that it won’t go back into your pockets to help those most dependent on the community’s provision, and therefore you won’t get a return on the significant investment in social, physical and mental health that Often flows that.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism