Elena Quirici would actually be in Tokyo now. The Swiss Karateka has already contested 21 tournaments to qualify for the Olympic Games this year. But their starting position, which had already been certain, is no longer valid after the games have been postponed to 2021 due to the corona crisis.
The 26-year-old receives the message from the international karate association on Facebook. There was no personal explanation to the athlete. The qualification ranking for Tokyo is now open again.
At the end of March, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) published a statement by IOC President Thomas Bach on Twitter, which assured all qualified athletes a right to start the competitions postponed to the coming year: “It is clear that athletes who are committed to qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, remain qualified as a result of the fact that these Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, in consultation with Japan, will remain the XXXII Olympics. “
Six days later, IOC sports director Christophe Dubi had to clarify this statement in a conference call. Bach had exceeded his competencies with his promise, since the National Olympic Committees remain responsible for the nomination of Olympic teams. And so Elena Quirici has to re-qualify.
“I really can’t understand this decision, especially on social media. What I want to say is that it was and is really, really difficult for me and many other athletes. I think the mental health of the athletes should be be considered much more, “Quirici wrote on Instagram.
Quirici must at least make it to the finals at the World Cup tournament in Rabat in April next year and at the European Championships in Gothenburg in May to be safe in Tokyo. But whether these tournaments will take place at all?
The prerequisite for the staging is that all athletes have the same opportunities to participate in the tournaments. At SPIEGEL’s request, a scenario in which Karateka could be prevented due to the corona pandemic is “not considered” in the world association. Thus, the questions remained uncommented as to whether there would still be starting places for the nations and to what extent there were fears of claims for damages.
Currently, the focus would be on competing in all qualifying tournaments by June 29, 2021, referencing a May press release. This states that “the best conditions are guaranteed for the athletes” and “that the qualification path for all karatekas in the world is as fair, open and impartial as possible”.
Rather, the postponement to next year serves as an explanation of why the already guaranteed starting places could not apply. “We believe that the update will preserve the essence of the original Olympic qualification system, since the same number of events on the qualification path is now ensured,” a spokesman for the association told SPIEGEL.
Quirici is not the only athlete who has to fight again for a ticket to Tokyo. In total, the IOC allocated 11,000 starting positions, 57 percent, i.e. 6,270 participants, had already been determined in March. All ranking points of tournaments that were held as part of the original qualification phase are retained. But that also means that they are not sure and can still be overtaken by the competition.
“We need concrete decisions and deadlines”
Added to this is the considerable financial uncertainty: Many athletes had fully bet on the games this year and completely geared their professional as well as private planning accordingly.
Swimmer Jessica Steiger already had a job at the youth welfare office after Olympia, wanted to step down and postponed her wedding until 2021. After relocating the games, a world collapsed for Gladbeck. Especially since their qualification opportunities at the German Championship in May and the participation in the Nordic Swim Tour in Bergen and Stockholm ceased to exist.
“My sponsorship contracts expire in August. I was faced with the decision of whether to continue with competitive sports or start a career,” Steiger told SPIEGEL. The 28-year-old tried crowdfunding, in which she wanted to collect 7,000 euros. Because swimming a year longer also means having to finance training camps, equipment and competition trips for a year longer. Within a month, there were even 10,116 euros. Nevertheless, the fear remains that the Olympia will be canceled and that everything will have been in vain.
“That takes up the motivation. We need concrete decisions and deadlines,” says Dominic Ressel, judoka in the weight class up to 81 kilograms, who would have traveled to Tokyo as a great medal hope. He realizes that he needs the competitions to set goals. “We train in the void. You can only see progress in one-on-one,” says the third in the world rankings.
He used the compulsory break, which particularly restricted martial artists due to hygiene regulations, to be operated on on the shoulder. “For the dream of Olympia, I would have continued without the surgery. But since we had no competitions anyway, I had more time to heal for the first time.”
In what form and in what period of time the qualifications should run is currently still pending for the athletes. It is also open on what basis these questions will be decided if there are hardly any competitions in large parts of the world until winter or beyond.
The uncertainty is “bitter at first,” says Ressel, “but there are really completely different problems in the world now.” And in the best case, the dream had not burst, but was simply postponed.