Let The Games Begin…

Well, today is the start of what were supposed to be the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.  COVID-19 stands out as an example of how even the most meticulous plans can be thwarted.  The Japanese Organizing Committee began planning for these Games more than 10 years ago when they began to pull together the Japanese bid to the IOC.  All the reports from last year said that the folks in Tokyo were ahead of schedule in terms of construction and housing and protocols for the sporting events – – and then all of that planning and execution went down the drain about 5 months before the Opening Ceremony when a “novel coronavirus” made itself known on the planet.

The Games will start today and while there will be athletic drama in the events and while there will be concocted drama created by TV networks as they present the games to the world, these Games will look and feel different.  The coronavirus is still spreading in Japan and the government there – not the IOC or the Organizing Committee – has declared a state of emergency meaning that there are government rules and protocols in existence that add onto any and all of the procedures that the Olympic officials had put in place for these Games.

  • There will be no spectators.
  • The movement of athletes from housing to venues will be strictly regimented.
  • Volunteers’ interactions with athletes will be regimented.
  • Visitors – athletes, trainers etc. – will not be allowed to take any form of public transit.

Nonetheless, the expectation is that approximately 11,000 athletes from around the world are expected to be in Tokyo to participate in these Games.  For sports fans who have been watching their favorite sports on TV for the last year, the fans will notice that the Olympians will have learned from successful techniques employed by those other sports:

  • Mask wearing – except for athletes during their competitions
  • Interviews at a distance

It may “look the same” to folks at home but there must be a different vibe for the athletes and for the people in Tokyo.  One aspect of the original plans for these Games – from a decade ago – was to provide citizens of Tokyo and visitors without tickets public venues where the events could be watched on giant screens.  That is not going to happen in 2021 under a government mandated state of emergency.

Barring another problematic and unforeseen intervention – say an invasion of space aliens – these Games will conclude on 8 August.  All that is left for the organizers and the government officials to do is to navigate the next 16 days calmly, efficiently and effectively.  Easy for me to say…

One of the things I will have in mind as I watch various Olympic events that in the US, many Olympic sports use college competitions as part of the “training ground” for athletes.  In 2020, many of the collegiate competitions in those sports did not happen; so, I will be looking to see how that affects the performance of US athletes in things like track and field, wrestling, fencing, swimming, etc.

Switching gears…  Starting in March 2022, the USFL plans to return to the menu of sporting endeavors in the US.  The USFL was a Spring football league that survived for 3 seasons back in the 1980s and organizers hope to use that success to launch this rebirth.  Back in the 1980s, the USFL aspired to become a co-equal with the NFL as a purveyor of football to the public.  It appears that the new league’s aspirations are more modest; it appears that the reincarnated USFL has two objectives:

  1. Stay economically viable  [The league has a TV deal with FOX which is a plus.]
  2. Exist as a feeder league/minor league for the NFL.

In recent years, we have seen the AAF – the Alliance of American Football – try to achieve those same objectives and fail.  And last year we saw the relaunch of XFL 2.0 that succumbed to the “novel coronavirus”.  Now we can look forward to a differently structured USFL next year and then – theoretically – a restart for XFL 3.0 with its new owners in the Spring of 2023.  Where those new leagues are going to find enough players, who can put out a product that will be watchable remains to be seen.  Yes, there are plenty of people out there who play football and who obviously like to play football; but just as an example, games equivalent to Ivy League football are not going to sell on TV on a weekly basis.  This will be interesting to watch…

In case you think the continued viability of Spring football leagues is problematic, let me tell you now that a professional golf league could also try to become part of the sporting cosmos in 2023.  The Premier Golf League has the backing of “Saudi interests” and Phil Mickelson said that he was “intrigued” by the idea.  Other recognized golfers such as Ernie Els and Dustin Johnson have expressed similar feelings.  Let me give you a thumbnail sketch of the idea:

  • The League would have 48 players assembled in 12 teams of 4 players each.  [Aside: What happens if a player is hurt and cannot play in a match?  Is there a league-wide taxi squad?]
  • The League would play 18 matches a year from January to September.  Ten matches would be in the US and the other 8 would be elsewhere in the world.
  • Matches would be 54 holes long with no cut line.  One of the foundation points for the League is that the best players should be seen playing as often as possible so having a cut line simply eliminates good players from public view.
  • Total prize money is theoretically going to be about $240M.  Where the revenues to cover that and other expenses will come from remains “cloudy”?

If this sounds like a bit of “pie in the sky”, consider also that the PGA Tour does not take kindly to the idea of the Premier League.  The PGA Tour has hinted strongly that a player who takes part in the Premier League would be exiled from the PGA Tour.  That fact alone tells me that the folks who run the PGA Tour see something in the Premier League that needs to be squashed like a bug.  Stay tuned…

Finally, since much of the stuff covered today has TV money as part of its backdrop, let me close with this observation by NY Times theater critic, Clive Barnes:

“Television is the first truly democratic culture – the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want.  The most terrifying thing is what the people want.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………