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Los Angeles and the COVID Olympics

The sporting world is confused! We can now state this definitively. National championships have been chaotic, and federations are trying to come up with different solutions for international competitions, but workable fixes are few and far between. Matches have been cancelled, half teams have to play against complete squads, and fear of the virus pervades everything. Will history treat this year’s champions, or will they just be considered lucky at the end of the day?

Unfair

People in sport have been throwing this term around more often lately. Understandably so. It isn’t easy to accept the luck factor in an area where, in principle, results should be more straightforward. One would think that the situation is clear; indeed, unfairness is happening everywhere, and in sport, luck has taken centre stage. But this is not a simple black and white situation. COVID has had a significant effect on match results, and the extent of this damage is also debatable. After all, its impact on an individual competitor or a team is unpredictable, so the reactions to it are unpredictable as well. If the virus hits a team, it may sooner or later affect the entire team, making it impossible for them to participate in matches at different times. In addition, the rules are unclear, and even when the rules are clear, they are still followed differently. We are not only talking about the fact that regulations about the virus in sport differ from country to country, but also about the fact that uniform rules can have a wide variety of practical effects. After some experience watching the big clubs suffer, it is more and more the case that the virus attacks a given team with full force, forcing the team to withdraw from their next match. For other teams, two to three people catch it at once, so half of the team is missing, but they still have to compete against their next opponent. There is a growing suspicion that clubs and players are tactical in this field, since in an adult league, for example, would you like to face your biggest rival’s U21 squad, putting yourself in a lose-lose situation? However, this has happened several times since the restart of competitive play. And so, if these defeats can be so painful in the end, it may be simpler to choose the forfeit option, right? Sure, it raises issues of sportsmanship, but winning is often more important than anything. In this situation, can unfairness be avoided? Probably not! However, we must strive to keep the level of unfairness to a minimum!

The COVID Champions

This term has materialised, and we still know little about its effect, but it will be branded onto teams and athletes. We do not yet know whether it function as a badge of honour or an asterisk. Only time will tell. A lot of people are talking about the Olympics, about the need to hold the Games in 2021 and thereby prove the world, to nature, that we humans are not intimidated. There is sober truth in it, because if we are not able to stage the event, which is one of humanity’s greatest spectacles, with a one-year delay, it will not have a positive effect on everyone’s mental state and sense of security. But there those that contradict this narrative, saying that we do not want another Los Angeles where, due to political differences, the entire Soviet Union team did not participate in the Games. Let’s just remember, when reporters on a broadcast discussed a champion from the 1984 Olympics, they always added — usually not very subtly —”in the absence of Soviet athletes”, and that immediately knocked even a star like Carl Lewis down a few pegs. Even now, the situation is dangerous, as athletes from different countries can prepare for the World Championships and the Olympics in very different conditions. Will it be fair for these athletes to compete? Will the world really recognise them as the world’s best? Or will we introduce an athlete’s achievements years later with “at the COVID Olympics”? How will history treat this event? And will these words reduce the value of these results? Unfortunately, it looks like they will. We can already see that if the Games took place tomorrow, then the medal table would not be completely fair either, as an Olympian prepares intensively for at least a year before the competition, so we are already too late to level the playing field. So, whether we like it or not, and whether we say it out loud or not, we are going to have COVID Champions. Among them will be the athletes and teams that have won championships this year, and those who will win at next year’s Games. Will this be referred to as a weakening factor for their legacies, or will it all increase the value of victories? It’s up to us!

Today, we are still thinking about how we can provide the conditions necessary to sustain a sporting life, but in the meantime, let us not forget that for athletes, sport is about results, which obviously means victory. We did not resolve the situation if we provided them only with the opportunity to play sports! We must consciously allow them to win, too! They must be able to value their victories! The most dangerous effect of COVID on sport is the cheapening of victory; if we are not careful enough, that will keep generations away from sport!