'Overwhelming majority of athletes wanted Games postponement' - Abhinav Bindra

Abhinav Bindra Milind Saurkar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Even as the International Olympic Commission debated the fate of the eventually postponed 2020 Tokyo Games last week, Abhinav Bindra, in his role as member of the IOC athletes commission, had a first hand glimpse at what athletes around the world were thinking.

According to Bindra, the vast majority - with their training, focus and competition badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic - wanted the Games to be postponed.

"We had several calls, we have a global network of athlete representatives, which means athletes commissions of all 206 National Olympic Committees and all 33 International Federations were involved and we had a call few days ago, last week I think," says Bindra, India's only individual Olympic gold medalist.

"We got their feedback, we received feedback again from them, given the evolving situation and it was pretty clear that an overwhelming majority of athletes wanted a postponement given the current circumstances.

"That (the athletes' response) was duly put forward to the Executive Board of the IOC through the IOC's Athletes Commission Chair. Of course, the feedback received was a very important factor in this decision."

A critical reason behind the decision to push the Olympics back by a year, was also the fact that qualification tournament after tournament were being canceled across the world. While the IOC at one point argued that the Olympics were several months away and that the pandemic might be curtailed by then, the fact that so many qualification tournaments had been slashed from the sporting calendar was a major concern. The nature of sport is also such that just pushing the Olympics a couple of months way wouldn't be enough either.

"If the Games were put forward for only two months, I think that is much tougher. You have created a cycle which is for July and if the Games move to September that is much harder to work with. Because you've planned your training loads you have planned for competitions which are now anyway getting cancelled. You can't just go to an Olympics without competitions."

To put it plainly, athletes had trained to physically peak this July and couldn't be expected to do so once again just a couple of months later.

"I think you carefully tune your training cycle and when you have to peak you don't have several months where you can continue to peak, you have a short time frame where you have that window and you've made that plan for a short time. And it's much harder to build a peak again so quickly. " he says.

As an athlete, Bindra understands the crushing disappointment of chasing a dream only to have it pushed away.

"At the moment, all these athletes live in that bubble that sport and performing at the Olympics is the most important thing in their universe and rightly so, I was one of them as well," he admits. Yet, the decision of postponement was inescapable, for while athletes might be laser focused on their sport, their social role was critical at a time of global crisis.

"Athletes are wonderful ambassadors to the community and they have to part and parcel of being socially responsible. These are just not the circumstances where an Olympic Games could be held safely in July. But now I think it is time to be part of the global solution which is to stay healthy and to stay home and safeguard themselves and safeguard everyone around them."

Dealing with the postponement is an onerous task. Yet, Bindra feels most athletes, especially the younger ones, will manage to do so.

"Younger athletes have a better capacity to adapt and this is a scenario where all athletes have to adapt and I think performing in sport is all about adaptability. It is about adapting to something that has not been foreseen, it is about adapting to a vertical you never took into consideration, and the athletes possess the skill of adaptability," he says.

Even as the world focuses its attention to grappling the threat posed by a deadly virus, Bindra says that will have to be the athletes' top priority too. Their time to return to the field will come.

"As of now, today the most important thing they can do for themselves and for their country is to stay healthy and to stay safe. Once this all ends, we will all be behind them even more than before. Their achievements will mean even more to us."