’20 Olympics in ’21 amidst COVID-19: Israel and Australia Summary

The dust has now settled on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as the Olympic torch is extinguished and passed on to Paris for 2024. I can’t help but note a few observations – the 2020 Olympics was held in 2021 but not rebranded as such, like COVID-19, which really took effect during 2020 but the name, much like a brand – remained. After the Olympic Games was postponed in 2020, I didn’t think it would be a fair Games if it was to be held the following year- not because of the ROC competitors, but because the countries with fit athletes who could train, travel and be vaccinated would succeed, leaving in their wake the less fortunate countries that couldn’t afford to make the trade-off and send their Olympians to the unknown. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was a very successful Olympic Games for Australia and the most successful Olympic Games for Israel. Is it a coincidence that these two countries overcame their 2020 COVID challenges better than most, because both countries have prioritised the saving of human lives in the fight against COVID-19?

Israel championed her fight against COVID as the rest of the world watched the little battler on the Mediterranean slice vaccinate their adult population with the Pfizer vaccine, exclusively sharing their data and statistics results with the vaccine manufacturer in exchange for going on top of the list of countries receiving doses. Rewind a few months and Israel, despite their accelerating MedTech industry, faced the challenge of a strong-headed population not obeying stay-at-home orders in cultural clusters, with the country on the brink of being overtaken by the virus and enacting very strict lockdown restrictions. With telehealth solutions, robotic doctors, and nurses; and makeshift army barrack-style treatment tents, Israel fought and kept the virus at bay just in time for the super-successful fast-paced vaccine rollout to achieve herd immunity. And so, Israelis went back to work, resumed business as per normal and athletes were able to train, travel to Tokyo and bring back two gold and two bronze medals – an unprecedented achievement. Israeli success, notably in gymnastics, in the Olympics was helped by its Russian immigrants, just as they have helped Israeli technological developments since the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union and mass-migration of scores of highly educated and scientifically skilled migrants to Israel.

Australia had a different battle to contend with against the global pandemic, boasting isolated borders being a large country-island. In Australia, we successfully curtailed the virus in the beginning whilst we lived our lives as normal when countries around the world were succumbing in droves. Athletes learnt of the delayed Olympic Games, which was a blessing for some who were injured and would struggle to qualify for the 2020 deadline, but a curse for the ageing athletes who might not be able to extend their training for another year. It’s no secret that Australia invests heavily in athletes competing on the world stage, especially in fields of previous success, such as swimming. Despite a few bungles by State Government allowing the virus to circulate, and some mishaps by the Federal Government in not securing vaccines, Australians managed to live a relatively normal life and have their athletes do their physical due diligence, while the Government fast-tracked the Olympians’ vaccination campaign ahead of the vulnerable and potential super-spreaders, for them to embark on flights to Tokyo and compete, to win no less than 17 gold medals and finishing in  sixth place. Pretty impressive for a nation of only 25 million people.

Unfortunately, the Delta variant struck while the athletes were away, and the Australian bungled vaccine roll-out has meant the loss of trillions of dollars’ worth of productivity. However, for two weeks us sport-loving Australians managed to forget about forced lockdown, routine testing, and the inability to secure two doses of the vaccine within the required and recommended time between each inoculation. We even also managed to secure the rights to the 2032 Olympic Games, beating out no other country with the disposable Government income to tender for the bid. Delta also struck Israel but differently to Australia, in that it hit the young population but similarly how both countries’ populations were living with relative freedom beforehand. Israel has now embarked on their booster campaign in addition to vaccinating children.

Israel and Australia both see the Olympics as a chance to shine on the world stage before a global audience. Time will tell if money and effort was well-spent on the Olympics. Although, it seems that on a world stage both countries are champions against the pandemic in 2021, where we have athletes returning home with gold medals. Both countries are competitive and reward success and both countries’ athletes were successful in crowd-less stadia against largely depleting non-first-world nations who really couldn’t sacrifice the same for temporary glory. Since Israeli medical technology is world-class and Australian athletes are world-class trainers and performers, it begs the question – was it all worth it? For those two weeks it was. 2022 and 2023 will be the proving ground of community sentiment around money-well-spent and we hope that 2024 in Paris will yield further successes, with all of us able to travel and support our Green and Gold and Blue and White teams.

Jeremy Ungar
Trade Officer
Israel Trade and Economic Commission
Sydney, Australia

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