Friday, 4 June 2021

Tokyo 2020 is coming. Or is it?

The Beginning

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Remember the Olympics? It’s still a thing, apparently, and it’s supposed to be taking place next month. It seems like a long time ago that the world’s athletes last gathered together to ride horses, throw sticks, and run very quickly in circles. It was five years ago, in fact, that the Olympic torch was wending its way through Brazil to its final destination in Rio de Janeiro, as it is now in Japan.

Japan will have the honor of becoming the first country to host an Olympic Games in the future. The Olympics, of course, is supposed to be held every four years, but thanks to covid Japan is being forced to host the 2020 Games in 2021. This isn’t likely being seen by the Japanese government as much of an honor though. With some estimating Tokyo 2020 to be the most expensive Olympics ever, you can understand why officials are eager to push past the pandemic and avoid delaying the event for another year. After all, USD 16 bn is rather a lot to spend on some buildings that risk becoming the playgrounds of edgy urban explorers a few years ahead of schedule.

The Games are still not certain to go ahead though: As we explain below, there are plenty of Japanese people that are slightly peeved at the IOC’s perceived determination to go ahead with the event, massive covid outbreak or no massive covid outbreak. For the moment at least, the noises coming from the high priests of Olympia (the lords of the rings, if you will) suggest that the show will go on.


The name may give it away — the 2020 Olympic Games should have happened in, well, 2020. If it weren’t for covid-19, the event would have kicked off on 24 July and run until 9 August, but the Japanese government made the decision relatively early on in the pandemic to postpone the championship to 2021. In March of last year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to reschedule the Olympics to the summer of 2021. In hindsight, that decision was absolutely necessary. At the time, it was a major disappointment — not least because of the USD 32-41 bn Japan was estimated to have invested in preparing for the Games, including constructing venues and expanding hotels.

Cancelling the Olympic Games isn’t unheard of — but postponing it is. This is the first time ever the Olympics has been postponed, and the first ever disruption that wasn’t caused by a war. Previous cancellations have only happened during the world wars: the Summer Olympics were canceled in 1916, 1940, and 1944, while the Winter Olympics were canceled in 1940 and 1944.

The postponement decision indicated that the Games would be held “no later than” the summer of 2021, but that’s not stopping calls to push it again as Japan continues to struggle with putting a lid on its covid-19 outbreak. The country is currently battling a fourth wave, leading it to put major cities — including Tokyo itself — under states of emergency, according to NPR. A poll out this month showed that more than 80% of Japanese people are against holding the Games this year while a popular petition garnered 350k signatures before organizers submitted it to the IOC and the governor of Tokyo last month.

Whatever happens, the usual crowds won’t be there: It was long suspected that the 2020 Olympics will be off limits to international visitors. Even with successful vaccine rollouts in some parts of the world, the trajectory of the global pandemic is still far from certain, and Japanese authorities in March banned foreign spectators from attending the Games.

And now even locals may be banned, making the 2020 games an entirely behind-closed-doors event: The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee has delayed making a decision on whether spectators can attend events until the state of emergency is lifted on 20 June — a month before the opening ceremony takes place.

So far, the organizers have held firm: The organizing committee, the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee have insisted that the event will go ahead, with senior IOC member Richard Pound telling the Evening Standard last month that only “Armageddon” would stop the Games.


Egypt has participated regularly at the Summer Olympic Games since 1912, two years after the establishment of the Egyptian Olympic Committee by Greece-born Egyptian sprinter Angelo Bolanaki (pdf). Bolanaki was the first Egyptian athlete to compete outside the country in the late 19th century, and was at one point the world’s fastest sprinter, holding the 100m world record near the turn of the century. Bolanaki was appointed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1910.

Over the past century Egypt has accumulated 32 Olympic medalsincluding seven golds — ranking it joint 53rd in the all-time medal table alongside Georgia and Indonesia.It’s not a bad showing when you consider that there are still 65 countries that have never in their histories won a medal, but it’s not exactly great. The US won 121 medals in the Rio 2016 Olympics alone — almost five times the number we’ve collected over the past century.

We may have had a few more if it wasn’t for the boycotts: Egypt has never been shy about getting involved in political boycotts of Olympic events. Of the 24 Games held since 1912, Egypt has participated in 20: sitting out in 1956 in protest at the Suez War; rejecting the 1976 Montreal Games after the IOC refused to ban New Zealand for links with apartheid South Africa; and joining the US-led boycott against the Soviet Union in 1980.

It took us four attempts to win our first medals — and it was weightlifting that became our forte: Amsterdam 1928 was the first Games that saw Egypt win medals, with two gold medals coming in weightlifting events and a silver and a bronze in diving. Egypt's first Olympic golds went to weightlifter El Sayed Mohamed Nosseir, who broke the world record in the light heavyweight class by lifting a combined 355 kg, and Ibrahim Moustafa, who won the Greco-Roman light heavyweight wrestling. Eight years later in Germany Khadr El Touni managed an even bigger feat, taking home a gold medal after easily beating his German competitor. El Touni lifted a stunning 387.5kg, trouncing the silver medallist who only managed 352.5kg, setting a new world record that would last for 13 years. All in all, Egypt has won 14 of its 32 medals in weightlifting and seven in wrestling.

Egypt’s GOAT? Mahmoud Fayad, who was regarded as one of the top Olympic lifters of the 20th century. The stage was set for the featherweight lifter to triumph in the competition and establish his legacy among the all-time great champions after Olympic gold medalist Ibrahim Shams moved up a weight category and Egyptian weightlifter Saleh Soliman disappeared from the sporting scene. After earning a silver medal at the 1936 Summer Games, Fayad aced his 1948 Olympic featherweight victory in London — he snagged the gold and also set world records in both the snatch and clean and jerk lifts. Proving that this was no fluke, he also came out on top at the next two World Championships.

Egypt continues to be a force to be reckoned with in weightlifting in the present day: Of the 12 medals won by Egyptians since the turn of the millennium, half of them have come from weightlifting and wrestling events.

It has been a long time since an Egyptian last won a gold: Greco-Roman wrestling legend Karam Gaber was the last person to do it, emerging victorious in the Men's Greco-Roman 96 kg event during Athens 2004.

Egypt has also made several attempts to host the Games, bidding in 1916 and 1936 for Alexandria to stage the event, before entering Cairo into the race for the 2008 Games, which were ultimately awarded to Beijing.

We’re not giving up that easily: In 2018, Sports Minister Ashraf Sobhy announced plans to bid to host the 2032 Olympics, which would make Egypt the first country in Africa to stage the Games. It’s not looking like we’ll see the torch in Cairo anytime soon though: apart from the fact that the government is not known to have submitted an official bid, the IOC is reportedly leaning towards handing the event to Brisbane, though Qatar said it will continue with its bid for Doha 2032.


Our last national appearance at the Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro five years ago saw Egyptian athletes bring home three bronze medals and break ground on some major historic feats for our women athletes on the global stage. Some of our best performances in 2016 came in both men’s and women’s weightlifting competitions, where we gained two bronze medals and ranked collectively higher than in any other sport.

Sara Ahmed Samir, 18, made history as the first Egyptian woman to secure an Olympic medal after coming in third place in the 69 kg women’s weightlifting event. Samir lifted a total of 255 kg (112 kg in snatch and 143kg in clean and jerk).

Mohamed Ihab, 27, was the second Egyptian to medal, claiming bronze in the men’s 77 kg weightlifting event. He secured a podium position after lifting a total 361 kg (165 kg snatch and 196 kg in clean and jerk). Ihab was previously barred from participating in the 2012 London Olympics after failing a dope test but performed exceptionally well in 2016.

Hedaya Malak, 23, was the third Egyptian athlete to be awarded a bronze medal after coming in third place in the women’s 57 kg Taekwondo event. Malak defeated Belgian fighter Raheleh Asemani with a golden kick in the fourth round, breaking a three-round tie.

A first for women’s beach volleyball: Doaa El Ghobashi and Nada Moawad’s participation in the women's beach volleyball competition in 2016 marked the first time for an Egyptian team to qualify for the game and the first ever appearance of a beach volleyball athlete in the hijab.

Close, but not quite: 25-year-old weightlifter Shaimaa Haridi fell short of a medal position in 2016, coming in fourth place in the women’s +75 kg weightlifting event after lifting a total 278 kg. Afaf El Hodhod, 20, came in fifth place in the women’s 10m air pistol competition, where she scored 137.1 points and became the first Egyptian to reach the finals in the event. And 27-year-old freestyle wrestler Inas Mostafa came in fourth place in the women's 69kg category and became the first Egyptian woman to reach the semifinals at an olympic freewrestling contest.

Notable mentions: Although 21-year-old swimming champ Farida Osman finished in 12th place in the women’s 50 meter butterfly event with a time of 58.26, she set a new African record for the contest. Nadia Negm finished in sixth place in Final D, 24th place overall at the single sculls rowing event but came home with the best-ever performance for an Egyptian female athlete in rowing. Haidi Morsi ranked 28th in the modern pentathlon but became the youngest Egyptian athlete to ever participate in an Olympic event at just 17 years’ old.

Those that didn’t quite meet expectations:

  • Middleweight boxer Hossam Bakr, who was Egypt’s best chance of winning a boxing medal, missed out on the podium after an upset that saw Mexico’s Misael Rodriguez go through to the semis.
  • London 2012 fencing silver medalist Alaa Aboul Kassem was also among those who fell short of expectations in 2016 after being eliminated from the men's individual foil round of 16 by Italian Daniele Garozzo.
  • Led by star Ahmed El Ahmar, the Egyptian men’s handball team was eliminated during the group stage after winning only one game.
  • Called the country’s best ever swimmer, Ahmed Akram was aiming for a place on the podium of the 1.5k meter freestyle but ultimately finished in 11th place.

The political statement: Judoka Islam El Shehaby refused to shake hands with Israeli opponent Or Sasson after their 100 kg+ contest. The spectacle stoked uproar from international media outlets and some harsh words from the International Olympic Committee, which alleged that El Shehaby had been reprimanded and sent home — a claim the Egyptian judo FA denies.


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Ones to watch at Tokyo 2020: Almost 120 Egyptian athletes will take part in Tokyo 2020 across 22 events, and while we’re unlikely to see medals in a handful of them, Egypt has a good chance of earning a place on the podium in several of them.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: Dopers mean that our biggest hope of winning medals won’t be competing. Egyptian weightlifters have been banned from competing in the Tokyo Olympics after seven athletes were found to be using prohibited performance-enhancing substances in 2016. After losing an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2019, the Egyptian Weightlifting Federation was fined USD 200k and its athletes were banned from participating in international events for two years. This will mean that Rio 2016 bronze medallists Mohamed Ehab and Sara Ahmed — tipped to be the nation’s biggest chance of getting onto the medal table — will be sitting at home when the Games get underway next month.

But all hope is not lost: Egypt may be without some of its strongest athletes, but that doesn’t mean that the chances of medals are lost. Athletes competing in handball, wrestling, boxing, swimming, and taekwondo all have paths to glory. Plus, there remains an outside chance that Mohamed Salah can guide the Egyptian football team to an unlikely medal.


In swimming, Farida Osman has already been busy making us proud. The Olympian swimmer landed gold medals in all three events she competed in at the International Swim Coaches Association earlier this month, taking her straight to Tokyo. She represented Egypt on the Olympic stage twice before: In London in 2012 and in Rio in 2016.

Haydy Morsy also deserves our attention. The 21-year-old modern pentathlete made it to the competition after winning the 2019 African modern pentathlon championship. Alongside Morsy, Sherif Nazeir will represent us for the modern pentathlon men’s event. We’re not sure why we’re not seeing Ahmed El Gendy and Salma Abdel Maksoud — who both landed gold in the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games’ modern pentathlon event — on the Tokyo roster.

Martial arts are a bright spot: Egypt has historically landed a big share of wins in martial arts at the Olympics, snapping a total of four medals in boxing, two in taekwondo, and seven — including two gold medals — in wrestling. And participants at this year’s event look promising: Two-time gold medallist at the World Karate Championships Giana Farouk will represent Egypt in the Karate, while four taekwondo athletes will participate, including Rio 2016 bronze medallist Hedaya Malak, and 2019 African Games silver medallists Nour Abdelsalam and Abdelrahman Wael.

In wrestling, the country has eight wrestlers qualified for competition including the U23 Greco-Roman Wrestler of the Year Mohamed Ibrahim Kisho, in addition to another seven who made it to the top two finals at the 2021 African and Oceania Qualification Tournament (here and here). As for boxing, two athletes will participate in the Olympic tournament: Rio 2016 Olympian and 2015 African Games silver medalist Abdelrahman Oraby as well as African Games champion Yousry Rezk.

We have a decent shot at winning some medals in the shooting: trap shooter Ahmed Zaher qualified for the Games after claiming the silver medal in the qualifying World Cup, and skeet shooter Azmy Mehelba is in following his third-place in the qualifying competition in Finland.


The national football team will be up against it, having been handed the closest thing the Games has to a “group of death.” Standing between the Pharaohs and a place in the quarter-finals are Spain, Argentina, and Australia. In order to finish first or second in the group and progress to the quarters, Egypt will likely have to win two of their games, beating either Spain or Argentina — two of the best teams in the competition.

We’re yet to hear the final team news: Olympic football teams have to consist primarily of U-23 players, but each country is allowed to include three over-age players in the squad. U-23 head coach Shawki Gharib has reportedly shortlisted 14 older players to join the team, including key names such as Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, Arsenal midfielder Mohamed El Neny and Al Ahly goalkeeper Mohamed El Shennawy. Expect to hear news on the final squad flying to Tokyo later this month.

We at Enterprise also believe Egypt’s men handball team will be a force to reckon with. The Pharaohs will face tough opposition early on as they’ve been placed in Group B alongside two-time World Champions Denmark, World Champions silver medalists Sweden — two nations that have dominated the sport in recent years — and hosts Japan. But led by 37-year-old Zamalek veteran Ahmed El Ahmar (who will be retiring right after the Tokyo Olympics), we believe the team has a decent chance of coming home with a medal in hand, especially after we hosted last year’s Men’s Handball World Championship and stood toe-to-toe in a stellar quarter-final display against the current world champion.

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