EDITORIAL | Let the conversations begin and the torch shine brightly on them
This year’s Olympic Games have brought a number of non-sporting issues to the fore. May it continue
There have been many firsts for the Tokyo Summer Games, some better than others. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Olympic event is well documented, causing the only postponement in history, barring those of the first and second world wars. Empty stadiums and masked athletes are the order of the day at the world’s biggest sporting event.
The postponement from last year to this offered opportunities for some athletes who would not have been able to participate if it weren’t for the one-year delay. While there is no universal minimum age for Olympians, some sports have age limits. For example, gymnasts must turn 16 during the year of the Games. This meant the women gymnasts who would not have met the age eligibility criterion if the Tokyo Games had been held in 2020 were this year offered the chance to perform. The International Gymnastics Federation decided to allow those turning 16 in 2021, instead of 2020, to compete in Tokyo. A wise 15-year-old, Jutta Verkest of Belgium, offered a sobering remark about the opportunity: “I think that nobody is happy to have coronavirus ... because imagine if the Olympics could have taken place without all these masks? Then I would not have been part of it, but everything would have been much bigger and very different.”
The Covid-19 pandemic aside, this year’s Olympics also offered some firsts unrelated to sport. It shone the spotlight on mental health as US gold medallist Simone Biles, who has more than 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, shocked the world and her team when she started in the women’s team final, then pulled out. Instead of sticking to the USA Gymnastics version that she retired due to a medical issue, Biles was happy to speak out and say it was not a physical injury that caused her withdrawal, but her mental health, which she deemed more important than a gold medal. She received an outpouring of support, including from International Olympic Commission president Thomas Bach and former US first lady Michelle Obama. ..