The announcement of new dates for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan has been welcomed by Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis. In a press release, yesterday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said the Games will be staged from July 23 to August 8, 2021.

“I’m glad they’ve arrived at a decision so quickly,” a relieved Lewis told the Express. “This brings absolute clarity for everyone involved. The athletes, TTOC, Team TTO. But while there is clarity, the challenges for the athletes, including financial, still continue. The relentless focus for myself and the TTOC is to surmount them as best as we could.

“We can now have conversations,” the TTOC boss continued. “For example, the original plan was for our athletes to go into camp in Japan in July this year for two weeks ahead of the Games to acclimatise. We’ll now have to engage conversations to determine if the camp venues will still be available next year.”

Last Tuesday, the IOC announced postponement of the Tokyo Games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, the global sporting celebration was scheduled for July 24 to August 9, this year. Lewis had been hoping the new dates would not have been during the hot and humid Japan summer. Yesterday, those hopes were dashed. “I would have preferred April. It is well documented that April and May are the best times in Japan with the weather. There’s an argument that April and May are not months when athletes can perform at their best. But that’s a Northern Hemisphere thing. However, on behalf of the TTOC and Team TTO, I have to accept the decision of the IOC.

“There are logical commercial and pragmatic reasons why the IOC, in the last three decades, has chosen the July/August window. The big professional sports leagues and big events, including Wimbledon, aren’t on, so it’s the best opportunity for broadcasters to recoup on their investments. We recognise and appreciate there are clear commercial reasons why summer dates were chosen.” Lewis said the TTOC will be initiating discussions with the IOC about the extension of support programmes for Olympic-bound athletes, now that the Tokyo Games will be staged one year later.

“We also have to engage conversations with our partners, who have all been very supportive. I’m confident our partners will work with us in navigating some contractual challenges. Our brochure will now be pushed back, as well as the launch of our team wear.”

TTOC’s high performance coordinator Anthony Marcano and project officer, athlete services and programmes Rheeza Grant are working with the Texas-based Michael Johnson Performance (MJP) on formulating a support plan for athletes.

“With this period of lockdown and shutdown,” Lewis explained, “we have to work from home. So, we’re upping our digital transformation. In collaboration with MJP, we will put together a digital initiative to help athletes who are training during this period of self-isolation.”

With the new Olympic dates almost exactly one year later than the original ones, the preparation pattern for athletes will not be affected. “The dates will work for some athletes and not for others,” said Lewis.

“Not every athlete would be able to peak again. There are a number of variables like injury, age, form that will impact some athletes more than others. For the younger athletes, it gives them an additional year to mature their talents.

“There’s the opportunity,” he continued, “for athletes on the fringe to seize the opportunity. From a T&T perspective, it can work to our advantage, but a lot will depend on the athletes. There are those who have worked hard and remain qualified for 2021, like swimmer Dylan Carter, sailor Andrew Lewis, and cyclists Nicholas Paul, Kwesi Browne and Teniel Campbell.”

When postponement of Tokyo 2020 was announced last week, Lewis had said the August 1-7, 2021 dates for T&T’s hosting of the Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) should be retained even if they clashed with the new Olympic dates. With the clash confirmed, Lewis has maintained his position.

“I don’t see any need to change the dates. There is a real opportunity now to create a compelling programme that would enhance the interest, like tying in the Olympic action with big screens, viewing parties and fan zones at the Commonwealth Youth Games. Coming at the end of this dark period, hosting the Games would boost both morale in the country and the economy.

“But I can’t see a decision being made in this current environment,” Lewis continued. “The T&T Government has more pressing concerns. Once we’ve defeated COVID-19, we’ll refocus on the Games. It would be insensitive and inappropriate to try to have discussions at this time about preparing for the Commonwealth Youth Games. We are all in in the war against COVID-19.”

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will be staged between August 24 and September 5, 2021.