Recent news reports coming out of Japan give a clear hint that more than 80 percent of country’s population is now against holding the Olympic Games. As the Japanese government struggles to put the lead on random spread of corona virus with the Olympic looming large, the figure is sure to tilt further against the desire of the organizers in coming days. I know my personal opinion will run straight against the predominant majority in the host country if I say I want Tokyo 2020 to go ahead.
But wait. I’m yet to make a conclusive decision and deep in my heart I’m torn apart. A half of my mind is saying I’m in favor, while the other half is accusing me for being extremely ignorant at a time when death is imposing its regime. I know postponing the Olympic Games is not an easy decision for those who are making all essential preparations for making 2020 a grand event that people will remember long after the games are over. This is not the reason that part of my mind is siding with the minority.
Olympic Games are big events not only for host countries and organizers. It is probably even bigger for those who, after years of preparation and hard practice, overcome the hurdles of preliminary stages and eventually qualify. For many such athletes, one time participation might turn out to be dream of a lifetime coming true. And for those who make it to the podium, it might open a completely new glorious chapter in their lives.
Do you remember Hassiba Boulmerka, the Algerian girl who could make it big not only for herself, but also for the country she represented? Exactly thirty years ago her big success was recorded in Tokyo. Competing in the World Championship in 1991, she sprinted to victory in women’s 1,500 meter and thus becoming the first African woman to win an athletics world title. On her return home she was briefly hailed and cheered by the crowd as the motorcade carrying her passed through the streets of Algiers.
However, everything in her life started sliding to the worst very fast. It was a bad time for her country as militant Islam was on the rise and instead of being praised for what she did for the country, she had received death-threat from Islamic militants. Her fault was running in shorts and showing her legs and arms. Later, as she started preparing for next year’s Barcelona Olympics, death was virtually running side by side in the tracks. But she did not give up. She arrived in Barcelona on the eve of her races and was escorted to the stadium under armed guard the next day. She knew her race was also going to be an act of defiance against evil forces. As she crossed the finishing line of 1,500 meter ahead of others, she became convinced that her win became a symbolic victory for all who face unsurmountable hurdles. And later as she stood on the podium with the gold medal, tears rolled down her cheeks; tears of victory and tears of joy.
Now try to imagine what would happen if Barcelona Olympic would have been cancelled. We would have no such inspiring story, no act of defiance against evil forces. We should not forget that athletes are not only athletes; they are also our hope and our pride. Depriving them of an opportunity to show the other side of their stories is synonymous to depriving us of getting a better understanding of what life is.
As words are being circulated about the possible postponement or even cancellation of Tokyo 2020, my thoughts are with the Japanese golden girl Rikako Ikei, who, at the age of 20 defied the threat of a deadly disease and reemerged not only to boost our hope, but also to proclaim that we human beings are capable of overcoming even the hardest of all difficulties should we have the determination to do so. Rikako has already shown us her strong resolve, not merely by recovering from a serious illness, but also by regaining all the skills of a champion swimmer through rigorous practice and extremely hard training sessions. In return what we can offer her is our whole hearted support so that she can make it to the winners’ podium and rightfully claim victory not only for herself and her country, but also for millions around the world who take sports a common platform of humanity’s journey onward. At the pool her swimsuits will be representing Japan. But we know for sure she will be swimming also for all of us; for the young followers of Hassiba Boulmerka in countries where women are still forced to stay inside, for the refugee girls who dream for a better life; and also, for the street children of my country who too are dreaming to break away from the shackles of misfortune.
This is in short why a part of me is still in favor of Tokyo 2020, despite the opposition of more than 80 percent in the host country.