Coronavirus can’t conquer the Olympic spirit

After announcing that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games would be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach expressed his hope that both events can be held next summer at the same venues and that they will be “a celebration of humanity, for having overcome this unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In this time of global uncertainty and insecurity, we can’t think of a better goal to aim for or a better symbol than the Olympic rings of how, together, the world can come together to rein in and then stamp out this pandemic.

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The five interlocking Olympic rings represent the landmasses of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania; and their blue, yellow, black and green colors, together with the white of the flag they first appeared on in 1913, comprise the colors of every competing nation’s flag at the time.

The Olympic rings and flag were designed by Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, and were meant to, as he put it, represent “the five inhabited continents of the world, united by Olympism.” Coubertin, a French historian and educator, also proposed the Olympic motto — Citius, Altius, Fortius (Latin for Faster, Higher, Stronger), officially adopted in 1924.

We offer this brief history lesson because the Olympic spirit is crucial to overcoming the coronavirus. As with the Olympic rings, the 195 countries of this world are interconnected and must cooperate as never before to stop the spread of COVID-19, hopefully with effective antiviral treatments and eventually a vaccine.

As for the host country, Japan, it was inevitable that after the World Health Organization’s March 10 categorization of the rapid spread of COVID-19 as an official pandemic, authorities there could not risk allowing many thousands of athletes, spectators and media personnel into the country.

Hosting the Olympics is always a risky proposition, but this (hopefully) one-year delay will present many challenges for an already struggling Japanese economy. It’s also heartbreaking for the Japanese people who planned for years and prided themselves on welcoming the world.

But the postponement is undoubtedly most heartbreaking for the thousands of athletes who train for a specific point in time, hoping to peak at the Olympics. This includes the participants in the Paralympics, which has grown from 400 athletes from around the world competing in 1960 to more than 4,300 in 2016. Many of these athletes are veterans. At the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, for example, 35 of the 289 athletes on Team USA were either military veterans or active duty personnel, some wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There’s no doubt that a one-year postponement will send shock waves through the global sporting community, dashing some Olympiads’ hopes while boosting others’ chances. What the rest of the world should do now is vow to attend and support the Tokyo Olympics whenever the pandemic subsides.

We need the Olympics, and the Olympics needs us, now more than ever. The modern Olympic Games represent the best of what humanity was in the 20th century, and the best of what it can be in the 21st century. Higher, Faster, Stronger, indeed. But also: Unity, Cooperation, Respect.

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As our international community confronts and bravely fights the common enemy of COVID-19, we would do well to remember the words spoken by the IOC president at the opening of the 2018 Winter Olympics: “United in our diversity, we are stronger than all the forces that want to divide us.”

— The Dallas Morning News

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