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Will the Olympics happen? P1/2

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Stop the Games.jpg


Pictures via twitter

This is part 1/2 on the challenges of holding an Olympics in a pandemic. We thank Stuart Weir for this piece and compiling the comments on the 2021 Olympics.

Will the Olympics happen?

Stop the Games.jpg

Pictures via twitter

320,000 people in Japan have signed an online petition to the International Olympic Committee, asking them not to hold the Olympics in Tokyo. They planned to give it to Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, when he visits Japan next week – except that his visit has been cancelled because of the state of emergency in the country due to COVID.


Pictures via twitter

Anyone trying to answer the question in the title needs to visit two parallel universes. Polls in Tokyo suggest that 60-80% of the local population are against the Games happening. Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, the ruling party, said the Olympics must be cancelled “without hesitation” if the pandemic made it impossible for them to go ahead. He added: “I’ve never put the Olympics first. My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population. We must first prevent the spread of the virus.”


Tokyo Olympic stadium, Photos by Tokyo LOC

Yukio Edano, head of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), said recently in parliament. “Unfortunately, we have to say it is impossible to protect the lives, health and livelihoods of the Japanese people while holding the Olympics and Paralympics”.


Ginza, photo by Tokyo LOC

With Tokyo averaging close to 800 new cases a day with less than 3 per cent of the population having been vaccinated, the country is in the grip of an alarming fourth wave.

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Olympic & Paralympic village, photos by Tokyo LOC

Two top Japanese athletes have also called for the Games to be cancelled. Naomi Osaka, world’s number 2 tennis player said. “I’m an athlete, and of course my immediate thought is that I want to play in the Olympics,” she told the BBC. “But as a human, I would say we’re in a pandemic, and if people aren’t healthy, and if they’re not feeling safe, then it’s definitely a really big cause for concern.” Fellow, tennis player, Kei Nishikori, was reported as saying: “It’s 10,000 people in [an Olympic] Village, I don’t think it’s easy, especially [with] what’s happening right now in Japan. It’s not doing good. If you think only about athletes, I think you can do it. If you can make a good bubble, maybe you can do it, but there is some risk, too. What happens if there are a hundred cases in the Village? Or it can be thousands?” But Japanese sprinter, Suzuha Kobari, took a different view, saying: “Japanese people are really worried about people coming from overseas as coronavirus variants are spreading, but as an athlete I want the Olympics to be held with people from various countries running”.

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Tokyo Olympic stadium, photo by LOC

A campaign to recruit 500 nurses for the Games got this response from the Japan Federation of Medical Workers’ Unions, secretary-general Susumu Morita: “The focus should be on the pandemic, not the Olympics. We must definitely stop the proposal to send as Olympic volunteers those nurses, tasked with protecting the fight against the serious coronavirus pandemic. I am extremely infuriated by the insistence of pursuing the Olympics despite the risk to patients’ and nurses’ health and lives”.

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Tokyo Olympic stadium, photo by LOC

In the other universe, it is business as usual. An online briefing for hundreds of journalists who will be working at the Games last week did not countenance the possibility of the Games not taking place. In the presentation, by the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo organizing committee, it was argued that some 40 global sports events have taken place during the last year and that Tokyo would be able to draw on their experience in planning safe Olympics and Paralympics.

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The Imperial Palace, photo by LOC

While that is true, there were a lot of issues at the Australian Tennis Open in January this year. The European Indoor Athletics Championships saw about 40 athletes catching COVID. The recent World Relays event, however, we understand, passed without the COVID incident. There’ve been several test events in Tokyo, including last weekend’s Continental series track and field meet in Tokyo’s new national stadium, which cost $1.4 billion. There were 420 athletes, but only nine from outside Japan. We understand that the event passed off without a problem.


Shibuya, photo by LOC

Seb Coe, who attended the Tokyo event last week, said: “We are very empathetic to the need to be fully recognising that communities around the world are inevitably nervous about many things related to COVID-19. We take those concerns very, very seriously. The COVID-19 protocols, particularly that World Athletics have developed over the last year and a half by our health and science teams who are extremely good at this, have consistently helped deliver events in a safe and secure environment.”

Will the Games take place? Your guess is as good as mine.

In Part 2 I will look at what the Games would look like if they take place.

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