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Philip Hersh: Too soon for figure skating worlds in ravaged Japan

March 12, 2011 |  3:56 pm


It was only hours after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit Japan that the International Skating Union issued a statement saying "the local conditions will permit"' the figure skating union to "regularly conduct" the World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo, an event scheduled to begin with official practices March 20, which is a week from Sunday.

The ISU's assessment had me thinking of the way Shakespeare pilloried the amorality of such decisions.

"Thrift, thrift, Horatio!'' Hamlet says in Act I, Scene II of the eponymous play.  "The funeral bak'd meats did coldly furnish forth the wedding tables.''

Hamlet is referring to the haste with which his mother remarried after the death of her husband, Hamlet's father.

Has the heartless irony of saving money even in a time of grief also clouded skating officials' brains?

Because there is no way to "regularly conduct'' a world championships while Japan will be burying its dead and likely still searching for its missing from the tragedy that struck the country Friday.

And it is time for skating officials to realize that.

The world championships must be postponed, moved or simply canceled.

Whatever that costs the ISU and the Japanese Skating Federation is insignificant compared to the horrifying numbers coming out of Japan. 

Japanese media have estimated the death toll from the two-pronged disaster at between 1,300 and 1,700. Tens of thousands of people are missing or unaccounted for.  Hundreds of thousands more have been evacuated from their homes.

There is a threat of radioactivity from accidents at Japanese nuclear reactors.  And a threat of more damage from aftershocks so severe that they should properly be called earthquakes.

Ottavio According to the website of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta told reporters Saturday at a speedskating event in Germany "the danger of radioactivity near Tokyo means there is a new situation to evaluate.  We need new information ... but we will have it only next week after talking to the Japanese federation.'' 

Cinquanta also said there was no "Plan B'' for the event, "but we are thinking of [the idea].''

He should also think about the emotional impact on the Japanese skaters who would be among the favorites at the world meet -- reigning world champions Daisuke Takahashi and Mao Asada and 2007 world champion Miki Ando.

And how would spectators feel about attending such a lighthearted event with death and chaos still in the air?

Sporting events have taken place relatively soon after terrible catastrophes. The 2008 Beijing Olympics, for instance, began just 88 days after after an earthquake in its Sichuan Province killed nearly 70,000 people.  The 1986 World Cup soccer tournament took place nine months after a massive earthquake in Mexico killed an estimated 10,000.

One can say it was heartless to hold those events as planned, but at least some months had passed in each case.

That is not the case with the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships.

It would be cruel, immoral, unsafe and -- to put it in terms sports officials should grasp -- simply impractical to let this event take place as scheduled.

"The time is out of joint,'' Hamlet said as he assessed setting right the situation he faced.

So it is now in Japan, even if the cause is not a single murder but a thousandfold deadly natural event.

It is the time for skating officials to do the right thing.

There can be no World Figure Skating Championships in Japan this month.

Photos, from top: The devastation in Minamisanriku, Japan, a port town where 10,000 people remained unaccounted for Saturday (credit: Associated Press / Kyodo News); International Skating Union President Ottavio Cinquanta speaking to reporters Saturday (credit: Uwe Lein / Associated Press).