Mission changes but stays the same as Team Ireland chief turns thoughts to 2021

Mission changes but stays the same as Team Ireland chief turns thoughts to 2021
DEMANDING TIMES: If I think of the amount of work that we have had to do to bring our side of things together over the last 18 months just to get a team together then I can’t even imagine what the Japanese have to put in place before they can confirm what the competition dates are going to be, says Patricia Heberle, Chef De Mission Tokyo 2020. Picture: Sam Barnes

Patricia Heberle can not remember when she spent this much time at home.

The role of Team Ireland chef de mission for the Tokyo Games usually involves a dizzying diary of planes, trains and automobiles but the Australian began working remotely — in the new sense — long before the Olympics were postponed or governments began restricting movements.

“My phone bill is going to be colossal,” she said this week.

Jim O’Donovan, the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s (OFI) chief medical officer, had them briefed and braced for the inevitable so there was no surprise in the announcement on Tuesday that they would now be working towards an indeterminate point in 2021.

She has embraced the changes, enforced though they were.

The systems set up by the OFI in response to the pandemic have allowed the staff to keep in touch internally and with the various other ‘stakeholders’ so the administrative side of things is still sailing smoothly even while so much else in the world has hit the rocks.

The OFI, probably like every Olympic body across the other 200-plus countries, had contingency plans in place long before Thomas Bach and Shinzo Abe came to the agreement to press pause but confirmation that this summer is off the table still delivered a measure of relief.

“It’s helpful that this is done now and the next most helpful thing would be if they could decide on the new dates,” Heberle explained. "But we are very respectful of what the Japanese will need to do and the fact that they will have to work with the IOC to bring this event together."

If I think of the amount of work that we have had to do to bring our side of things together over the last 18 months just to get a team together then I can’t even imagine what the Japanese have to put in place before they can confirm what the competition dates are going to be.

Heberle has been to Japan five times over the course of the last few years, dotting ‘i’s and crossing ‘t’s. Others have made the same trip.

“They were ready.

"Though the Games as planned was still four months away, Team Ireland would have been good to go now had it been required.

"The approach from here on in is to fine-tune that multi-layered operation. The priority remains the athletes who are being contacted this week with a view to mapping out just how everyone has been affected by the current crisis in terms of training, competitions and other issues," she said.

Heberle has been thrilled if not surprised by the resilience of prospective Irish Olympians and others around them in recent days to this turn of events but there is an acknowledgement that some will find it harder to digest than others.

We’ve got people in key leadership roles in sport as well who I know are also hurting.

The International Olympic Committee is speaking to the 33 different international federations today with a view to coming up with some consensus around a new date but, while training and other plans will change on foot of all that, the focus remains the same.

“There is a huge piece of work to stay connected with all our Irish sports and Irish athletes and our other stakeholders and partners. Right now it is about getting the brain thinking in a different way and you don’t want to take your foot off the pedal.

“What this delay gives us is an opportunity to be even more thorough around some of the things we have put in place and to add even more value to the sports and athletes and to build our relationships further.”

The other side to all this are the preparations in Japan.

The OFI had everything in place for the run-up to the Games.

The main pre-Games base of operations for the majority of the Olympic team was to be Fukuroi City but the cyclists were due to prep in Masuda, the boxers were sparring with the Americans, French and Germans in Miyazaki and the women’s hockey team had settled on Iwate.

All of it based on the assumption that the Games would begin on July 24, 2020.

“The Japanese are incredibly generous,” said Heberle, “and I am confident that they will do their utmost to deliver on everything that has been negotiated for a Games that would have gone ahead in July of this year, although we also have to stay realistic.

“They are still dealing with the coronavirus and the Olympic planning piece at prefecture level may not be the highest priority today or tomorrow so we also have to be balanced in the way we see things and be respectful of the bigger picture.”

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