Okay everyone, deep breaths. There's just too much bad news going around but the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics is not one of those. Yes, athletes are anguished to a degree we cannot even comprehend. This is the most literal 'shifting the goalposts' that they will have to deal with, but at the bottom of their beings they understand the reasons behind the decision. What was gnawing away at them was being in limbo. In the information age, said Abhinav Bindra, Olympic champ turned sporting wiseman (doesn't always happen), people can digest bad news but cannot bear no news.
Sunday's announcement by the IOC to set a four-week deadline to do 'scenario planning' and mull over a postponement first sent the sports ecosystem into paroxysms of fury. How would the interim four weeks change things? With some athletic god descending from Mount Olympus, waving a wreath, banishing the virus and ending the pandemic?
This is exactly the kind of attendant circus around the Olympic Games that make them infuriating. IOC panjandrums, organising committee bosses, heads of state in huddles together while the world was being dealt out samples of handbaskets full of hell.
That's the venting done with. Deep breaths must be called upon again.
After the 'scenario planning' nothingburger, the decision to postpone was taken inside 48 hours and must now be dealt with. Tokyo 2020 is going to take place in 2021 and it will still be Tokyo 2020, except in a far happier, sunnier place than July-August 2020 is actually going to be in Tokyo and the rest of the world.
Speaking after the postponement, IOC boss Thomas Bach sought to explain the dithering over the final decision, saying, "The Olympic Games are maybe the most complex event on this planet and getting everything together cannot be done in just a phone call between the two of us." That is Bach and the Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe. Or maybe the Emperor, we don't know, the Olympics do reach the highest levels. Bach called the Games a "huge and very difficult jigsaw puzzle." He is wrong. The Olympic Games are not just a huge jigsaw puzzle. They are a giant theme park composed of moving jigsaw pieces.
The Games are bankrolled by TV rights deals and its insurance clauses, force majeures and acts of God, and that's where billions come into play. The NBC's rights deal (2011 to 2032 Summer and Winter, TV and digital) is worth a total of $12B. There's the 33 sports involved, their international federations and their annual calendars, and the biggest of those who matter are swimming (high point of week one) and athletics (high point of week two). As it happens, the athletics and swimming world championships were to be held between July 16 and August 15, 2021, but both federations have announced they are happy to move their events to fit in the Games.
They had to, because the Games are the big caboodle. Any world championship winner - in Olympic sport, that is, (not including football, tennis, golf) - will gladly swap their gold medal for one at the Games. Ask anyone. The lure of the Olympics to athlete and the audience is the seduction of its infrequency - once every four years - the quality of the competition and the fact that everything else around their sport has stopped and the world is watching.
In fact, it feels like the entire world itself has landed in the same place - and among the journalists, for sure, all chasing the same story. What hits you first about an Olympic Games is its scale. The enormousness of everything and as the time wears on, the sweetness of its smallest elements.
The moving parts of the theme park jigsaw must not only fit into place, they must do so with cheer, while speaking 700 languages. The host country issues no visas, the Games accreditation cards becoming a diplomatic passport for demanding anything.
Everything must work: transport, security, accommodation, electricity, water, food, transport, satellite connections, wifi, telephones, timings, transport, electronic scoreboards, stopwatches, dope control, alarm clocks, coffee machines, mikes, speakers, transport. Press conferences for some are held in 3000-seater auditoriums. In Beijing, though most unlike Beijing, Roger Federer was planted in a room with what seemed like 37 chairs, with busloads of cameramen trying to break in.
The Games Village sometimes resembles student hostel accommodation except basketball players need longer beds and superheavyweight allsorts need stronger ones. Flags hang outside balconies. Superstars walk through mixed zones. Legends can be seen ambling randomly. Athletes are often found doing cartwheels or weeping in corners. Such exhausted words can mumble-tumble out of a press conference, you want to say, six golds are enough, Michael, go home and sleep. This madness lasts around two weeks but resonates so powerfully, that it feels like forever.
Of course, it is worth waiting for a year more for this. In this time, the Olympics torch will remain housed in Fukushima, until it is handed over to first runner in 2021 and begins its journey around the country. What had been referred to as Japan's Recovery Games, after the horrific events of 2011 following Fukushima's nuclear reactor explosion and a tsunami, has already taken on global significance. Bach said so himself, "The Olympic flame can really become the light at the end of this dark tunnel the whole world is going through together at this moment."
In these times of global misery, that does sound like considerable self-aggrandisement, which the Olympics are prone to now and then. But let's put cynicism on hold for a moment. Nothing about that statement will be fundamentally incorrect.
A year or so from now, imagine the sight of the runner, torch in hand, arriving off the motorways, streets and underpasses of Tokyo into the lights and noise of Japan National Stadium with its 80,000 spectators. Imagine it. Fill that image with sight and sound, whatever you like - a night sky, the colours of the floodlights on the roof of the stadium, the flashing of phone cameras, the boom of the announcer's voice over the PA introducing the runner and telling of a sterling career, the rumble of a drum roll. Next year, around this time. The runner, the stadium, the Olympic torch. Close your eyes and imagine it again.
In that moment, there will be no other gathering on the planet which can tell of humanity that we have come through. That our lives, spinning into uncertainty and fear today, have to a degree been righted. That we are healthy again. The flame and the dark tunnel, just like Herr Bach said. The Olympics are on, man.