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The Olympic Games must go on – Samuda

The preparation for and eventual staging of this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, will be a battle of wills and has been likened to combat with two sides diametrically opposed – those who are against the event going ahead and those who are determined that it should and are rallying behind the war cry, “let the Games begin.”

Christopher Samuda, president of the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA), is on the side of those who think the world’s largest sporting event should go ahead in safe way in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic that forced its postponement from last year.

It’s the fight against the pandemic in Japan that is on the forefront of the battle, but Samuda said there are no plan Bs and the Games should go on.

At a recent virtual monthly meeting of The Rotary Club of downtown Kingston where he was the guest speaker, Samuda asked, “Should athletes, therefore, be denied that opportunity for self-actualisation and to create earning opportunities? Should the Olympic movement capitulate in the wake of this onslaught when its principles impel us to be resilient, determined and steadfast?

“Should the Olympic Movement give in to a viral invasion, or should it continue to take up arms against the enemy in sport in fighting the battle on its way to winning the war? And then, should the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and Olympic movement pick wisely the battles to fight in the interest of public safety, for healthy lives matter?”

The Japanese Government, he said, also has a battle on its hands in the face of growing public protests and opposition to the Olympic Games. “Should, as some are saying, the Government of Japan in the face of public polls calling for the cancellation of the games and now protests, select wisely its political battles so as to avoid disfavour or suicide at the polls or should it stand firm, with clenched fists on the principle of athletes’ actualisation and their coming of age on the greatest international stage of sport?”

The JOA boss said the decisions were not easy ones and would take bravery to arrive at. “It’s a delicate balance, an unenviable duty that resides with the decision-makers as to whether to go to war or to retreat. Very early in the game, President (Thomas) Bach told a group of us, presidents, that there is no plan ‘B’. And I thought then, that we therefore had better be on our ‘A’ game.”

Samuda said he had taken that militaristic stance on how to move forward prior to the world coming to a standstill in March last year. “But even before the advent of the virus, I said in the public domain and to my directors and member federations, on more than one occasion, that a seasoned soldier or army in sport must always be equipped, ready, willing and able to face squarely adversity or, in military terms, the enemy.

“So the athlete must, despite the resultant challenges of the pandemic – psychological, economic or otherwise – be on the alert and be well conditioned for the assignment. Excuses by a soldier in any vanguard called to military action are considered instances of weakness of a lily-livered get ready for the games,” he told the Rotarians.

The JOA, he said, “by extension, will always be in a state of readiness to deal with any eventuality. We must keep watch not with the anxiety of a watchman who waiteth for the light of the morning but with the knowledge and wisdom that we must be ready when the hour comes. That’s our policy. We won’t be caught flat-footed or in the left field particularly when it is neither our prerogative nor our right to say ‘Let the Games begin’.”

Samuda said the last two years have not been the best “in the annals of the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games as anni horribili – the years when death, genocide – human suffering, emotional bleeding, social disorder, economic shocks and fall-outs at the fatal hands of a pandemic became the DNA of life and buried, for some in sport, their dreams and aspirations of athletic excellence and earning potential and, for others – the fans – another experience of athletic poetry, prowess, power and panache.”

He said the year would “mark the fearless will of the International Olympic Committee to reincarnate the Games of the past without spectators; with strict and robust pandemic protocols including rigorous, and some may say, invasive testing regimes from arrival to departure; with non-negotiable limitations on the freedom of movement and the liberty of the person; with mandatory quarantine if you on being tested fall prey to the virus; with scaled down and, in some cases, the cancellation of ceremonies and public activities that have given, over the years, the games their unique ethos of friendship, fellowship and sport comity that have defied differences in race, colour, culture, religion, political creed and cultural heritage.”

The JOA boss said the rallying cries of the Global Olympic Movement “‘The games are on!’ and ‘Let the Games begin’ will be the mantra as it takes steps to preserve and ignite the Olympic spirit in a crisis; as it assures the global citizenry of the safety and health of athletes, coaches, administrators and officials; as it defies the odds in declaring to doubting Thomases and detractors that sport can thrive and must thrive amidst this crisis if only for the reason that the athletes, the primary employees of the sport industry, have waited patiently for four years to earn glory and to use the world’s pinnacle platform, in multi-sports competition, to demonstrate their marketability and value to sponsors, investors and capitalists.”

He said athletes “go to work everyday, just like you and me, and they go with the conviction that, by dint of their sweat, money will be in the bank to feed mothers, fathers and children. By the sweat of their brow they eat; and the air-conditioning system which we enjoy in the comfort of our offices is, for them, perspiration evaporating and cooling the body.”

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