Updated: Nov 13, 2020
As inequality and competition imbalance at the Olympic Games steadily increase, was the knock-on impact of COVID-19, in a strictly sporting sense, actually leveling the playing field?
By Tim Harper | equitysport Founder & Chief Executive
The paradoxical truth is that, strictly from a sporting perspective, up until the postponement of the Olympic Games, the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was actually doing more to level the playing field in world sport than creating widespread disadvantage.
The conditions and training constraints that were being felt by athletes, teams and sports federations in North America, in Europe and in China were similar, albeit under a different set of circumstances, to what their competitors in the developing world have always faced.
Disease, war, civil unrest and socioeconomic disadvantage across the Global South have long created insurmountable obstacles for aspiring Olympians across the world to access the support, facilities and stability required to compete on an equal footing to their peers in the “developed world”, regardless of talent.
It’s telling that we barely consider these challenges until they knock on the door to the collective privilege and deeply rooted advantages that are enjoyed by teams of athletes from countries of affluence.
The decision to delay the Tokyo Olympics was correct, there are few that could argue that the risks even begun to outweigh the advantages, such is the enormity of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But rather than celebrate the entrenchment of inequality of opportunity and of the vast disparity between the have’s and the have not’s in global sport now that the games have been rearranged, let this be a briefest of insights for the sporting community in places like Western Europe and North America to the reality of the pursuit of dreams for vast swathes of the global masses who don’t enjoy their privilege.
Your training nightmare is over now, or rather, it will be in plenty of time for your federation or governing body to help you rebound, ready for you to bring your very best to the games in 2021. You’ll soon be able to return to your training facilities and check in with your highly trained support staff and coaches, but for your peers in the developing world, its business as usual - making do with whatever they’ve got, to do the best they can to realise as much of their potential as possible.
This is not to suggest, as is so often pointedly asked of us as an organisation, that we should frown upon or even try and counter the continued pursuit of sporting excellence by our athletes, teams and sports federations. On the contrary, our sporting heroes should and will go on to achieve great things in Japan next year - but I hope this glimpse into just how lucky they are, how lucky we all are, lends itself to an genuine acknowledgement of privilege, and a steadfast commitment to send the ladder back down to the global masses, so that they too, can squeeze every last drop of their athletic and sporting potential from themselves.
Olympism includes everyone. Not just the affluent and not just the privileged few. Perhaps COVID-19, for all the damage it has done to sport and the devastation to our communities, can, in the smallest of ways, open our eyes to the plight of others and kickstart our commitment to do more to level the playing field in sport.
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