The debate has raged in recent days with reports emerging from Japan that the already-delayed Games could be lost altogether due to a spike in coronavirus cases in the host nation.
The International Olympic Committee responded strongly yesterday, insisting the Games had not been cancelled and that they would implement all possible ‘Covid countermeasures’ to ensure ‘a safe and secure Games’ can go ahead.
But with no imminent sign of the spread of the global pandemic easing despite the rollout of a vaccine, questions are starting to be asked six months out from the Games about whether it will be safe to proceed, or if they should be cancelled.
It took the IOC only a matter of weeks at the outset of the outbreak last year to decide that the 2020 showpiece should be put back a year, and Brownlee – the London 2012 and Rio 2016 gold medallist – believes the lessons learned from last year should be heeded this time around.
Last summer, the spread of the virus relaxed to such an extent that society returned to something like normal as other sports such as football and cycling proved they could return safely.
“We just don’t know what’s around the corner with Covid, it’s such a moveable beast,” Brownlee told The Yorkshire Post.
“Last year all hell was breaking loose in March and April and by the time we got to July-August, football was on again, and you start thinking it might have been possible to have had the Olympics. But then again look how quickly it turned south a couple of months ago.
“So I don’t think even the most well-informed person knows what’s around the corner and we all have to believe it’s on until it’s off.
“Given all that, my suggestion would be don’t rush into a decision, put all the mitigation you possibly can in place so that if you can run it under not-so-ideal conditions – and they’re not going to be ideal let’s be honest – then you can do that.”
That, for Brownlee, would go as far as staging the Olympics behind closed doors.
“I would absolutely do it even if it means no fans at all,” he said. “It would be a great shame and I’m the first person to say fans make the Olympics so special.
“But given the choice of competing in front of no crowds in a scaled-back experience, or no Olympics at all, you would always go with the former.”
While accepting that health and safety takes priority, Brownlee admits there is a hint of selfishness in his desire to get the Games on.
Having already said he would retire from Olympic-distance triathlon after Tokyo, the Yorkshireman knows that any cancellation of the Games would bring an abrupt end to his illustrious career in the event.
He also knows how much effort he and his fellow Olympians put into competing at the Games.
“You can’t understate how big this is for athletes, how much they put into it, how much it means,” said the 32-year-old, who still has to qualify for what would be his fourth Games. “I completely see that side of the argument, but I’m also a realist and get the other side of it, that people out there could be thinking that this could cost people’s lives, so it’s really hard to move away from that.
“Ultimately it’s going to come down to how safely it can be held but all athletes I know are preparing full steam. We’ll have to accept the decision either way.
“Whatever happens it will be my last one which is a very sobering thought; if they’re not on I’ll effectively be retired, and I will shift all my focus onto the longer distances.
“I’m in the fortunate position of having been to three Olympics, won two and achieved way more than I ever dreamed of, so at least I’ve got that. But just don’t rush the decision.”
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