The Tokyo Olympics might shakily start as scheduled on 23 July (today). But we already are in a difficult marathon the past 15 months, with the finish line not in sight. The strangest Olympic Games in history will epitomise the strangest days in our life – and the endurance, mental strength and unselfish spirit to cross difficult pandemic hurdles.
In some ways, sports arenas epitomise human struggles, the inspiring efforts, humbling failures and hardearned triumphs – and the dark side of excessive commercialisation, corruption and politicized administrators running sports federations like personalised mafia-dom.
This is why great sporting events for good reasons find popular appeal even amid a world in turmoil. So we may see another Olympics finish well on Sunday 8 August, and the resident Japanese populace freed from fear of a coronavirus catastrophe spreading from the Olympics Village in Tokyo’s Chuo City.
Fittingly, the Sunday preceding the Tokyo Olympics saw the epic annual cycling race Tour de France finish at the Arc de Triumph and Champs-Élysées on a golden evening in Paris. The world’s toughest cycling athletes endured the 3,414 kilometres (2,121 miles) gruelling odyssey over 23 days, across the beautiful European countryside in summer, through picturesque villages and medieval castles, through the Pyrenees and misty Alps.
It was fitting too that this year’s pandemic-surviving Tour de France was deemed as one of the most challenging in its 118-year history. It’s a history of pain and gain, of cheats and gritty heroes –as in other sports and life.
In the spirit of youth offering hope in darkest times, the extraordinarily talented 22-year old cyclist Tadej Pogacar from c stunned the world by successfully defending his Tour de France champion title.
The determined endurance needed to cope with the years 2020 and 2021 was seen in Tour de France – perhaps the most brutally tough event on the global sports calendar. Fitting too that veteran Mark Cavendish won his world-recording equalling 34 stage wins in this year’s Tour de France.
The 36-year old Cavendish, aka the ‘Manx Missile’ from the Isle of Man, was triumphant four times and won the exalted Green Jersey for Tour de France sprinters when many had written him off. Rarely was a winner so exhausted as Cavendish, collapsing in victory after enduring 219 km of summer heat from Nîmes to Carcassonne. We saw more connections to these confusing times.
As mask-wearing Cavendish and Pogacar received their championship trophies on a happy evening in Paris, across the English Channel 110,000 spectators were allowed the freedom of choice not to wear their masks during the Formula One race at Silverstone, 100 km from London. Mostly mask-less cheering crowds jam-packed the stands of Silverstone last Sunday. So too for the Tour de France finale, along the cobbled, horse chestnut trees-lined Parisian avenue connecting the Place de la Concorde and the Obelisk of Luxor from ancient Egypt.
But an empty stadium 8,500 km from Paris saw different Covid-19 rules applied the same Sunday evening in Colombo. A Covid-19-generated young Indian white-ball cricket team played Sri Lanka with no spectators allowed for safety reasons, just as mandated for the Tokyo Olympics. Similar were the contrasts elsewhere. On Tuesday, 20 June, a packed Old Trafford, Manchester, saw a Twenty20 match with most spectators not wearing masks.
But no spectators were permitted as Australia and West Indies played a one-day international at the same time in Barbados. Such erratic government Covid-19 policies continue even after 15 months of suffering. Emotional and economic pain continues because contradictions in Covid-19 management still go unchallenged by most of the media and the judiciary.
In horrific if not criminal dereliction of duty and responsibility, most in the media blindly accept and report official pronouncements to a gullible, sheep-like public. Most people have no idea of contradictory medical voices against how the pandemic is being managed – particularly the lottery-like erratic RT-PCR test based on whose questionable “results” life-crippling lockdowns are declared in the name of saving lives.
As in sporting arenas worldwide this week, no government has yet explained why the same pandemic virus and its “variants” are being dealt with so differently in Europe and Asia. Dubious RT-PCR tests could still lead to the Tokyo Olympics being cancelled – a minor matter compared to greater damage unleashed on billions of people worldwide because callous governments and culpable media continue to dodge or hide the real truth about the pandemic.
This sad and shameful failure also harshly exposes battered media credibility. It explains why a recently retired senior judge in India in his farewell speech said he never watches television news and only reads the headlines of newspapers.
I mostly did the same the past six months, except for some sports news. In the past six months I more clearly, emphatically understand how one moment of my Vipassana practice can bring more tangible benefits of service to all than a million words I may write as a professional journalist. Barriers of ignorance causing suffering can be conquered only from within. Suffering is relative, a matter of perspective.
While we complain of inconveniences and losses from lockdowns – and some athletes complain of claustrophobic lives in five-star hotel “bubbles” – all this is nothing compared to lives lost the past year due to Covid-19 and deaths falsely attributed to this weaponised virus.
For instance, what happened to lives lost each year due to ordinary flu? In recent months I often remind myself of lives lost and indescribable suffering during insane conflicts such as World War II. Densely populated cities bombed to rubble and brave soldiers torn to shreds from shrapnel – as in the snowy forest of horrors near the Belgian town of Bastogne.
This bloodied forest saw the unforgettable heroism of the 101st Airborne Division guarding a critical crossroad during Adolf Hitler’s failed Ardennes CounterOffensive of 1944. It happened near the route of Tour de France 2021. Across endless time, the unrelenting courage needed to overcome pain barriers is universal in the shared marathon called life. The writer is a senior, Mumbai-based journalist.