After a 10-year odyssey in pursuit of his Olympic dream, Kiwi heavyweight David Nyika will be among those hoping the Tokyo 2020 organisers box on with plans to host the world’s greatest sporting festival in July.
The sight of Nyika weeping while clutching his ‘ticket to Tokyo’, after defeating Syrian Alaa Aldin Ghousoon in the second round of an Asia-Oceania Olympic Qualifying tournament in Jordan this week, was deeply heartwarming.
When Nyika’s hand was raised, it marked the end of a decade-long journey that has included no shortage of heartbreak and woe. Having had his dreams crushed four years ago by highly questionable officiating, the two-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist’s prospects of righting those wrongs teetered for two years as the IOC seriously considered dispensing with a sport riven by corruption and administrative incompetence.
Following a major overhaul, boxing survived as an Olympic sport, however Nyika’s prospects remained precarious as coronavirus forced the rescheduling of vital qualifying events.
Ultimately, it came down to one bout, which the talented Kiwi dominated to book the first Olympic boxing berth for a New Zealand male since Soulan Pownceby placed 17th at the 2004 Games in Athens.
Nyika’s impressive semifinal whitewash of Uzbekistan’s former world championship bronze medallist Sanjar Tursunov and narrow final loss to Kazakh Olympic and world silver medallist Vassiliy Levit suggest he will be a strong medal contender in Tokyo.
If he gets the chance to enter the ring.
Unfortunately for Nyika, like thousands of other athletes across the globe, successful qualification for Tokyo doesn’t mean the time for concern has passed.
At this stage, the 2020 Olympic Games proceeding as planned look no better than a 50-50 prospect, as major sports events continue to drop like outclassed pugilists in the face of the Covid-19 global pandemic.
This column doesn’t pretend to be an infectious disease specialist – but it does know a fair bit about risk planning for major sporting events.
‘Global pandemic’ tends to be fairly high on any international event’s risk register; right up there with Act of God (earthquakes etc), terrorism and major international incident (war).
Given their potential to draw together humans from right across the globe and then disperse them to from whence they came with a potentially deadly disease as carry-on baggage, the Tokyo Games must be both a threat to human welfare and under threat.
Games organisers will be painfully aware of two key facts: whether they are able to proceed will be dictated by the severity and timing of Covid-19’s spread; and that that is totally out of their control.
That’s not a good place to be.
“It is our basic stance that we press ahead with preparation for a safe and secure Olympics … we are not at all thinking about changing courses or plans,” Yoshiro Mori, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief said Wednesday as the clock ticked down to T-minus 124 days.
If there is one thing that can be guaranteed right now, it is that Games organisers are very much thinking about alternative scenarios.
They won’t be alone. Anyone who happens to be hosting a major event in coming months will be far from comfortable right now.
With the scale of the human tragedy at 4,585 deaths reported at the time of writing, many sporting events have already been affected, either cancelled completely or played for expediency only behind closed doors.
The growing list includes:
- On Thursday, the NBA suspended its season, after a player tested positive for Covid-19.
- The NCAA basketball tournament in the United States will be played without crowds.
- Tennis’ Fed Cup finals event in Budapest was postponed after the Hungarian government declared a state of emergency and banned all indoor events with more than 100 people attending, and the Indian Wells ATP event was cancelled outright.
- Six Nations rugby matches and the Hong Kong and Singapore Sevens have been postponed.
- The Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain will be closed to spectators, while the Chinese Grand Prix, which had been scheduled for April, has been postponed.
- Professional soccer games in Spain and Portugal will also take place in empty stadiums for at least two weeks, the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar have been postponed.
Anthony Joshua’s mandatory world title fight against Kubrat Pulev in June is also under threat.
“I cannot see how we can stage a fight behind closed doors with no crowd,” Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn said rather glumly.
In this part of the world, Super Rugby labours on without interruption and the NRL is about to begin. But there is no guarantee that situation will remain. If the global trend is anything to go by, a sizeable community outbreak of Covid-19 in either New Zealand or Australia would clearly have the potential to bring a halt to play.
Further ahead, New Zealand has a packed schedule of international events in 2021 that includes women’s rugby and cricket World Cups and the America’s Cup.
Planning for all three of these major global events is well and truly under way and Covid-19 will have been highlighted as a risk to their successful execution.
But it is just one of many risks that have the potential to derail any major event.
There’s little more to be done than draw up contingency plans that account for the worst possible case scenario, while hoping it never happens.
Then box on. Here’s hoping David Nyika gets to do just that.
*Newsroom Sports Editor At Large, Steve Deane, has worked on major sporting events including the Auckland NRL Nines, Brisbane Global Rugby 10s and Rugby League World Cup 2017. He is the head of marketing and communications for Women’s Cricket World Cup 2021.