In looking back 101 years to the Antwerp Olympics in Belgium, I wondered if there were similarities in how the 1920 Games were organized to deal with the Spanish flu that had ravaged the world to a much greater extent ( 12-20 million deaths) compared to today's Covid 19 pandemic (1 million + deaths world wide). Medically speaking today's world has been much better able to deal with a pandemic through the development of vaccines than the world of 100 years ago.
After doing a little bit of reading on those games, it seems that Belgium took very few if any precautions to limit spread of disease. In fact the Spanish flu by 1920 was fairly much a thing of the recent past.
Instead the Games were seen more as an event with the specter of the recent world war hanging over it than the memories of the Spanish flu.
That is not to say that Olympic athletes were not themselves victims of both the war and the Spanish flu. In fact more former Olympians died from the Spanish flu (7) than from fighting in WWI, this according to historian Bill Mallon as reported in an AP story by James Ellingworth July 27, 2020 "Planning for Olympics in A Pandemic Has Echoes of 1920 Games".
Mallon and others have identified 48 Covid 19 cases among Olympians with 19 deaths in the current pandemic.
The most notable of the 1918-20 pandemic was Martin Sheridan, the Irish born New York City policeman who won gold in the discus and shot put over multiple early Olympics. Sheridan is also remembered for not dipping the US flag to the English King in the 1908 Games.
The 14-year old American diver Aileen Riggin (gold medallist in 3 meter springboard diving) had contracted the Spanish flu and after recovering took up swimming and diving.
Another anecdote of that Games was that the ship the US team travelled to Europe on had previously been a mortuary ship that had returned many bodies of American servicemen back to the States. The team members made numerous complaints of the smell of formalin (embalming fluid) that still was present on the ship taking them to the Europe.
Still in most respects the Games were epitomized by post war recovery than post pandemic restrictions.
In modern times the postponement of the Games from 2020 to 2021 is about financial hardship for the Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee and what the restrictions on athletes and spectators will be when and if they do take place.
In an article in The Guardian today (May 8, 2021) by Kieran Pender a number of things are noted which will most likely play a role in the conduct of the 2021 Games.
First it must be remembered that three quarters of the IOC's revenue comes from TV rights to the Summer and Winter Games. How can they not allow the Games to go on even in a diminished capacity? It would seem that only the Japanese will be able to stop the Games from taking place. And the Japanese have $20-40 billion invested. Will they be able to swallow that pill and cancel a second time?
Some of the rules for athletes and media being considered to allow the Games to go on will be:
Two times tested before departure to Japan.
Media quarantine for three days after arrival.
No cheering for teammates.
No contact with athletes from other nations.
International spectators banned.
Maybe even Japanese spectators banned.
Athletes can only arrive 5 days in advance and must leave 48 hours after competition.
Australia is taking additional precautions.
Athletes will all be provided with daily meals pre-packaged in Australia. Kangaroo burgers and Foster's? You're not an Aussie if you don't throw up on your shoes at pre-flight check in.
Athletes when returning to down under will be quarantined 14 days in hotels at home.
So, with time swiftly rolling forward, where would you be as an athlete? Where would you be as the parent of a 14-year old gymnast if you could not accompany them? Where would you be as an aging athlete who knows this will be your last shot at making the team? If the Games go on, we as spectators watching from our living rooms will be isolated from making those decisions. The TV wonks will be doing everything to make us live in a dream world thinking that this is the real deal. To me seeing those cardboard faces in the stands and the canned cheering just reeks of 21st century illusion. Still I will watch.
Wonder if The Suits will have a full complement of a broadcasting team or just a skeleton crew like Swangard and Bolden and no one else for what is now being called by some ‘The Genocide Olympics’ ....and that, in truth, its’ coverage might not be usurped without warning or subsequent mea culpas at unscheduled times by the quarter finals in Bumpkin, ID of the NW regional Corn Hole championship? Richard Mach