By disrupting the sports calendar as never before in peacetime, COVID-19 has placed organizers and athletes in the face of an unprecedented challenge: transforming huge popular festivals into “safe” competitions in 2021, with the Olympics and the Euro in mind.
Often criticized for their cost, their environmental impact or the opacity of their attribution, major sporting events appeared in 2020 in a new light, that of potential sources of contamination of formidable dimensions.
The 8thth first leg of the Champions League between Atalanta Bergamo and Valencia, on February 19 in Milan, thus contributed to the outbreak of the epidemic in the Lombard city, transforming into a health tragedy the most beautiful European epic in the history of Italian club.
Unthinkable therefore, in the midst of the global wave of coronavirus, to maintain the Tokyo Olympics scheduled for the summer of 2020: the IOC resigned itself at the end of March to postpone them for a year and to reschedule them from July 23 to August 8, 2021 , while the Paralympic Games will be held from August 24 to September 5.
Ditto for Euro-2020, postponed mid-March from June 11 to July 11, 2021, and which remains scheduled in twelve cities in twelve different countries. Unchanging July meeting, the Tour de France was moved to September and surrounded by drastic precautions.
The year has been destabilizing for athletes: forced to juggle with uncertain deadlines, they suffered in the spring from unequal restrictions depending on the country, given the sudden cessation of competitions, then faced in the fall an overloaded calendar, source of fatigue and injury.
All in a climate of financial insecurity that has affected some athletes, suspended from the support of their sponsors hit by the crisis, but also a number of structures. The IOC released in mid-May an envelope of 150 million dollars for international federations and national Olympic committees, while Fifa offered 1.5 billion dollars in grants and loans.
At the same time, the authorities have embarked on a long-distance race: prepare a battery of scenarios for the major events of 2021 but without revealing them too early, as the evolution of the pandemic and the means to contain it remain unpredictable.
As UEFA officially did not touch the organization of the Euro, attention was focused on Tokyo. Already, it is certain that the Olympics will be less sumptuous than expected, their postponement having inflated the budget from 2.1 billion euros to about 13 billion euros.
The organizers reduced the number of invitations, eliminated certain ceremonies and planed on mascots and pyrotechnics, but were only able to save 240 million euros.
The atmosphere of the Games promises to be unique, while the biggest peaceful gathering in the world is not just a sporting event: “there is an important festive dimension, with a cultural program, music, demonstrations. , giant screens, a festival atmosphere in the city, ”says Jean-Loup Chappelet, professor emeritus at the University of Lausanne and specialist in Olympism.
But for now, the priority of the organizers is to guarantee the safety of the participants as well as of the population, while the availability of a large-scale vaccine remains hypothetical.
At the beginning of December, they detailed the measures envisaged, including the wearing of masks and the ban on shouting for spectators, while the athletes will be regularly tested and their contacts will be limited.
The challenge is considerable, since the Games must bring together 11,000 athletes from 206 countries, accompanied by at least 5,000 officials and coaches, 20,000 media representatives and 60,000 volunteers, with a number of competitions in closed halls.
Even for outdoor sports with distancing, the risk comes from the side effects: “the massage if the physiotherapist is not wearing a mask, or the pre-race team meeting in an unventilated room”, illustrates with the ‘AFP Xavier Bigard, medical director of the International Cycling Union, whose season ended with 54 positive riders out of 13,850 tests in the peloton – without serious cases.
It is precisely on the expertise accumulated in a few months by the federations, as well as during “test” competitions, that the IOC relies. “Doctors, laboratories, governments: we have all learned a lot since March,” insisted mid-November his boss Thomas Bach.