January 19, 2021

A Grand Vision of the Olympics Plays Catchup With the Rest of the World

The International Olympic Committee clung to the belief that the Tokyo Games would offer hope against the coronavirus this summer, even as sports leaders and medical experts insisted that the event be delayed.

For weeks, as the coronavirus spread across the world, Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, has held onto the dream that opening an Olympic Games on July 24 in Tokyo could serve as a celebration of triumph over a pandemic that has killed thousands of people, closed down countries and devastated the world economy.

By Monday, it appeared that a decision on whether to postpone the Games had finally become a matter of when and how rather than if. Regardless of when the I.O.C. decides to detail plans for a delay, its slow public responses to the coronavirus have been only the latest example of an organization seemingly out of step with much of the world.

For more than a century, this group — which has always included a healthy representation of royal families and society’s wealthy upper crust — has held onto the idea that the Olympics are about values. That the Games are a symbol of peace that is larger than any sports competition. That the power of the Olympic flame and the Olympic rings can unify and repair the world, even in the face of brutal dictatorships and virulent disease.

The I.O.C. took the 1936 Olympics to Berlin as Hitler’s fascist, anti-Semitic regime was in full bloom. The I.O.C. cozied up to Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, and said little ahead of the Sochi Olympics in 2014 when Russia passed laws prohibiting displays of homosexuality or when it invaded neighboring Ukraine as the Games were still happening.

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