Leander Paes is ready to unleash his ‘new version’ when the sport resumes but the veteran tennis star fears that the organisers may not be able to pull off Tokyo Games and the legacy he wants to create by playing his eighth successive Olympics could remain an unrealised dream.
Paes, who turned 47 on Wednesday, had announced that 2020 would be his last seasonand Tokyo Games was expected to be his swansong event but the COVID-19 pandemic upset his plans.
“I’m really concerned about the Olympics because that is relevant to my history, my legacy,” Paes said during a webinar hosted by Indian Chamber of Commerce – Young Leaders Forum.
“I was on a ‘One Last Roar’ season, culminating with the Tokyo Olympics. But now that is pushed back to 2021, with the global economy, also going down, how will those corporate sponsors for the Olympics, still stand their ground to support the Olympics?” he asked.
Without a vaccine to tackle COVID-19, Paes said the future looks gloomy for the Olympics to go ahead even in 2021.
“How will the Japanese sporting governance still be able to conduct the Olympics, especially if it is behind closed doors?,” the most successful doubles player in the history of Davis Cup with 44 wins, asked.
“Where is the revenue coming from, knowing that the stadiums are empty. It’s all an issue that we will face. Sport is such a big business, if you’ve got athletes who are 100 million dollars worth athletes.
“Each of my playing hands is insured for millions and millions. But I’m not allowed to even chop a tomato, unless I do very very cautiously.”
Paes said he has used the COVID-19 triggered lockdown to further re-invent himself.
“Last year in September 2019, I looked to retire because I was jaded from 30 years of playing the sport. I had to take time away, I had to read, I had to spend time with my father, it was such a blessing that I’ve had over the last 93 days, to be able to interact with my father.”
“When the lockdown opens up, and I do come back to my profession, I’m a new version of Leander, of that 30-year-old athlete,” he said.
Football season has resumed with Bundesliga, La Liga and the much-anticipated English Premier League this week but Paes fears if a global star gets infected with COVID-19, it will impact sport adversely.
“Can you imagine the two people, Cristiano Ronaldo CR7, and Leo Messi catching COVID 19. God forbid, can you imagine Messi having to go into a hospital and fighting for his life with COVID-19?
“These are real issues. They have already started playing, they are already in contact with, not just the ball at their feet which is a minimal risk whatsoever but in terms of contact the context, in terms of a push or dive or a tackle…”
“Can you imagine a professional athlete catching COVID-19 right now today before the vaccine comes out. How far it will put the sport back,” he remarked.