The Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo are vying for the top-spot for the most troubled major sporting events in history. Not only did the coronavirus pandemic fall on the Japanese, due to which the Olympic Games had to be postponed for a year, but also the remaining days before the opening (July 23), there is still no clear understanding of the procedure for holding the Games due to constantly adjusting requirements related to problems of sanitary safety.
As follows from the latest adjustments by the organizers of the Tokyo Olympic Games published by The Asahi, the opening ceremony and large-scale events at the National Stadium will be held without spectators, only VIP guests will be able to visit it, and ordinary fans will not be allowed into the stands due to the threat of the spread of coronavirus. Therefore, athletes who are going to the Tokyo Olympics this year are likely to compete in silence. Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the organizers of the Games on the ground and the International Olympic Committee have limited not only the occupancy rate of sports facilities during the competition, which should not exceed 50%, but also the number of spectators in all the competitions at 10 thousand people. At the same time, the audience will almost entirely consist of Japanese, but even they can neither cheer athletes, nor sing or chant songs, since “all this contributes to the spread of the coronavirus.”
NBC News emphasizes that the Tokyo Olympics, with its small number of fans allowed by the organizers, who, moreover, are strictly prohibited from expressing their emotions, will make it a very strange experience for athletes and an unpleasant psychological factor to deal with.
According to experts, Japan has already lost more than $ 1 billion due to the fact that it banned foreign fans from coming to the Olympics and limited the number of foreign officials. If the Olympics are canceled altogether, the damage will exceed $ 16.5 billion, according to some estimates.
About 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries are expected to participate in the competition. For hundreds of Olympic organizers, “this is a big headache.” As CNN reports, during the entire period of their stay in Japan, the movements of the participants in the Olympics will be monitored by monitoring GPS data from mobile phones.
Another very serious problem, as pointed out by the Japan Times is that plane tickets have skyrocketed due to the pandemic, and certain countries have closed flights altogether. Therefore, many teams need to “drive thousands of miles in the wrong direction” before heading to Japan on various acceptable alternative routes.
After tightening the entry rules for Olympic participants, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun announced the introduction in Tokyo, from the end of June, of a mandatory daily submission during a week while in Japan by Olympic athletes from five countries of coronavirus tests in connection with the outbreak of the ‘Delta’ variant. The list of these countries so far includes India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, but it is possible that their list may be expanded. Participants in the Olympic Games from other countries will be required to submit the results of two negative coronavirus tests taken within four days before heading to Tokyo.
Earlier it became known that an athlete of the Uganda national team, who is with his team in Japan and who had previously been diagnosed with the coronavirus by local authorities, was infected with the delta strain, although before his arrival the athlete had received a second dose of vaccine from the British-Swedish manufacturer AstraZeneca and 72 hours before departure from Uganda passed a negative coronavirus test.
The Japanese media are sounding the alarm because, in addition to this case, the first cases of coronavirus infection have already been identified among athletes in Japan. In particular, such an incident occurred on June 29 during the filming of a TV report about the preparation for the Games of the Singapore national table tennis team that arrived in Japan, which was prepared by the film crew of the major regional TV channel Shizuoka Hoso. In connection with the incident, the Organizing Committee of the Games has taken preventive measures, and is considering the option of introducing bans on the communication of the Japanese media with other national teams participating in the Tokyo Olympics. The incident with the Singapore team is being taken seriously by the Japanese government. It reached the point that a special statement was made on the topic by the General Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers of Japan. Against this background, the readers’ demands to cancel the Games have intensified.
Another blow to the Tokyo Olympics was, according to Newsweek, the refusal of about 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers who were supposed to take part in organizing the competition but chose not to. It has been noted that in many respects the mass refusals are due to fears about the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the failures of local authorities in their respective vaccination campaigns. In addition, the overwhelming majority of Japanese people strongly oppose the Games: according to recent polls, 83% of respondents are opposed to organizing competitions this summer. This is largely due to the fact that the concentration of athletes, Olympic delegations and journalists in one place can lead to a powerful surge in infections within the country. At the same time, by all accounts, although Japan initially gave a strong rebuff to the pandemic, the country has since become the target of criticism due to the slow deployment of their vaccination campaign. As the national television and radio campaign NHK notes, due to the disruption of the vaccination program for the Japanese population, the US State Department even assigned Japan the highest “red” level of epidemiological danger and announced the need for Americans to cancel their travel plans to Japan.
Overcrowding in hospitals in the Japanese capital due to the Coronavirus and the inability to allocate additional resources if necessary, the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association warned. This was reported by the Evening Standard, as well as an appeal by Japanese doctors to the country’s authorities to cancel the Olympics and draw the attention of the IOC that in case of an increase in mortality due to the Games, “Japan will bear the maximum responsibility.”
The capital of the Land of the Rising Sun was chosen by the IOC three times to host the Summer Olympic Games, but each time force majeure intervened. Tokyo could have first hosted the Summer Olympics in 1940, beating Barcelona, Rome and Helsinki and after the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin it was announced that the next Games would take place in Asia. However, these plans were not destined to come true due to the fact that in 1937 Japan got involved in the Sino-Japanese War, which lasted until 1945.
The 1964 Summer Olympics became for Tokyo a symbol of the country’s rebirth after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the holding of these Games, Japan wanted to demonstrate to the whole world that it had risen from the ashes, and also the fortitude and cohesion of the entire Japanese people. However, this summer an unprecedented drought hit Japan, and the start of the Olympics had to be postponed for three months – till October 10.
It was announced in September 2013 that the XXXII Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo. However, in the year planned for these Games in 2020, not only the Olympic Games suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic, but absolutely all sports competitions, including the stages of the World Cup and the European Football Championship. The world of sports and in general the global populations have not yet had to face such a disaster.
Nevertheless, the author would like to hope that the XXXII Summer Olympics will be successful both for world sports and for the athletes themselves, and for Japan.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.