2020 Games postponement signals growing power shift from IOC to athletes
LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Tweeting from her Toronto couch two weeks ago, six-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser had two words for the International Olympic Committee, which had yet to postpone the Tokyo Summer Games amid the coronavirus pandemic: “Insensitive and irresponsible.”
Days later the IOC acquiesced, delaying the Olympics until July 2021 and sparking what some say could be a permanent shift in power away from the hierarchical governing body to athletes.
As the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, sponsors and broadcasters with millions of dollars on the line stayed mostly silent about the timing of the Tokyo Olympic Games, scheduled to open in July. Sports federations simply said they would take their lead from the IOC. The vast majority of nations bided their time.
For exasperated Wickenheiser, 41, something had to give. “I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity,” she tweeted.
Wickenheiser, a Canadian ice hockey gold medallist and doctor-in-training who also competed in softball in the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, told Reuters that she could not stay silent. “(Athletes) were the first voices to really alert the world to how tone deaf the IOC was being,” she said.
As a result, the IOC narrative was “turned on its head” Johannes Herber, CEO at Athleten Deutschland said.
“The fact that the IOC and Japan decided to postpone has a lot to do with the fact that athletes spoke out and clearly told their stories. It somehow made it real,” he said. “Formally, nothing has changed and athletes have formally no more power than before. But the power they have through social media to form public opinion was clearly demonstrated.”
Some in the IOC acknowledge athlete power was key in this unprecedented postponement, signalling a challenge to the body’s supremacy. “I know for a fact that some colleagues messaged the president urging him to postpone because they were under a lot of pressure back home both from the athletes, and in some cases governments,” one IOC member, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.