Sir Chris Hoy feels the circumstances around the pandemic can enhance the Olympics impact rather than diminish it.
The Tokyo Games opening ceremony will take place on July 23 following a year’s delay and major uncertainty over whether they would happen at all.
Fans will not be present after a spike in Covid-19 cases sparked a state of emergency in the Japanese capital.
Competitors will have to quarantine and be subjected to regular testing while adhering to strict guidelines to help prevent any coronavirus cases spreading.
It is a far cry from Hoy’s experience of leading Team GB out at London 2012 and becoming the country’s most decorated Olympian in front of a home crowd.
But the retired track cyclist believes there is a chance for athletes to bring heightened joy and distraction to a world seeking respite from coronavirus.
“It’s a unique experience,” the Scot told the PA news agency. “You can look at it two ways.
“You can go ‘oh, what a shame, it’s my one Olympic Games or my first Olympic Games, there’s going to be no crowds, my family won’t be there, I can’t go out and enjoy the city when I have finished competing, I can’t go and watch other events’.
“Or you can say, ‘you know what, this nearly didn’t happen and you are going to get the chance to compete for your country at the biggest sporting event in the world’.
“And once you are on the track, the pool, the pitch, whatever it is you are doing, you won’t be aware that there is no crowd there, you will be so focused on what you are doing.
“It’s not ideal, of course it’s not ideal, but in the last 18 months we have had, it’s just wonderful that there is some form of competition happening.
“As long as it’s done in as safe a way as possible that doesn’t cause ripple effects afterwards.
“It’s easy to say that as someone who has been to four Games and had the full experience. If it was your only experience it would be disappointing, but I think they are all just relieved that it is going ahead.”
The excitement generated by Euro 2020 showed the unifying potential of sport.
“Sport plays such an important role in society,” said Hoy, who won six Olympic gold medals. “You can say it’s trivial and it’s just guys kicking a football or people riding around in circles on a track. If you break it down, everything is trivial unless you are saving lives.
“But I think it has a really, really important role. You can see the difference it has, how engaged the whole of Europe was to the football.
“I think the world will, hopefully, engage with the Olympic Games and have something to focus on, have athletes to cheer on, and to look forward to better times, and remind ourselves of pre-Covid times as well.
“The vaccine has made it possible and I really believe it will lift spirits.
“People are desperate for something to engage with and get back to normality. As restrictions start to ease, this will hopefully be another thing that gets people feeling a bit more positive.”
Hoy hopes the Olympics can reinforce the drive for health and fitness that came into sharper focus during the first lockdown.
He aims to use sport as a force for good himself as he prepares to lead up to 1,000 cyclists from Glasgow to Edinburgh on September 5 in a bid to raise £1million for charity Social Bite to build two villages for homeless people in Glasgow and London.
“I don’t think people went out for an hour of exercise every day pre-Covid, but when they were locked in the house they thought ‘this is my chance, I am going for a walk or getting the bike out of the shed’,” said the 45-year-old.
“A little bit of exercise in a sustainable way on a weekly or daily basis, ideally, that’s what makes long-term change.
“Training for a charity event like the Break the Cycle ride, I really hope it’s not just going to inspire people to raise money for Social Bite, but actually rekindle their joy for riding a bike and they will keep going afterwards.”