The Tokyo Olympics, already delayed by the pandemic, doesn’t look very fun: not for athletes. Not for the masses. Not for the Japanese audience. They are caught between fears about the coronavirus while little unilaterally vaccinated and politicians hoping to save face by holding games and International Olympic Committee On the other hand, billions of dollars are at stake.
Japan is known for its consensus action. but a decision Advance to the Olympics — and this week for letting some fans, if only locals — tear it up.
“We’ve been trapped in a situation where we can’t even stop now. We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” Kaori Yamaguchi, a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee and a 1988 judo bronze medalist, wrote in a recent editorial published by Kyodo News. “The IOC also seems to think that public opinion in Japan is not important.”
Support to move forward appears to be growing, but there is ongoing opposition with small street protests planned. Much of this concern stems from concerns about health risks. While the number of new cases is waning in Tokyo, only about seven percent of Japanese have been fully vaccinated — and although the government is now shipping the vaccination campaign after a slow start, the vast majority of the population remains unable to be vaccinated. Immunize when the games start.
This left the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government in a twisted position to pull this off. Dr Shigeru Omi, the government’s chief advisor on the COVID-19 coronavirus, called it “unnatural” that the world’s largest sporting event is being held during the pandemic. He also said that the safest Olympic Games would be without fans.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government and regulators vetoed in both cases.
The official cost of the Tokyo Olympics is $20.3 billion, but government audits suggest twice that. All public funds except for $8.8 billion. IOC chips at only about $1.9 billion in total cost.
The push to hold the Games is largely financial for the Swiss-based International Olympic Committee, a non-profit but highly commercial body that earns 91 percent of its income from broadcasting and sponsorship rights. It is estimated that the cancellation could cost her between $3.9 billion and $5.2 billion in broadcast rights income.
Aside from financial concerns, having a successful Olympics is also a source of great pride for the host country. Some economists compare it to throwing a big party. You overspend but hope your guests will go away and show off your hospitality.
“It’s a bit like a gambler who has already lost a lot,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “To withdraw from it now will only confirm the heavy losses that have been incurred, but continuing to do so you can still hold on to the hope of a big win and get everything back.”
Prior to the postponement 15 months ago, Japan was on track to host a well-managed albeit expensive Olympics. It contained a beautiful new National Stadium designed by architect Kengo Kuma, meticulous organization, and a grand podium for a country that held historic matches in 1964 – just 19 years after defeat in World War II. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has called Tokyo “the best-prepared Olympics ever” – and still says it over and over again.
But now, fears are looming that the Games will become an incubator for the virus. For now, the rolling rates of deaths and cases have stabilized in a country that has reported more than 14,000 deaths – good by global standards but worse than many of its Asian neighbours.
While the games may eventually still impress TV viewers who will be heading across the world, the pandemic has removed any sense of celebration. Athletes are supposed to stay in the village or places. Most others entering Japan for the Olympics can only move between their hotels and venues for the first 14 days, must sign a pledge to follow the rules, and their movements can be monitored by GPS.
There will be no public viewing areas in Tokyo. The few fans who can attend venues must wear masks, social distance, refrain from chanting and go home straight afterwards. Don’t stop at the local izakaya for beer and grilled chicken skewers.
With onlookers left out for months, there is little business for hotels. Local sponsors have paid more than $3.9 billion to participate, and some have complained about missed advertising opportunities. Others expressed concern about being associated with an unpopular event at home.
In perhaps a last-ditch effort to salvage some festive spirit, organizers said Tuesday they are looking into selling alcohol at venues.
Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa noted financial concerns: Japanese brewer Asahi is one of the sponsors and has funneled millions into the local operating budget.
But after immediate opposition, organizing committee chair Seiko Hashimoto reversed the decision at a press conference on Wednesday.
“We decided in Tokyo 2020 not to sell alcoholic beverages and to ban drinking alcoholic beverages in public places,” she said.
The organizers have asked athletes who may want to have a drink for the celebration “drink alone” in their rooms.
Otherwise, alcohol is prohibited in the athletes’ village.
This village will also contain a fever clinic, the first stop for anyone who fails the daily test – and the last place anyone wants to go.
“We hope there won’t be many people. This is an infectious disease we’re talking about. It has the potential to spread. So once that happens, the numbers may start to explode,” said Dr. Tetsuya Miyamoto, director of medical services for Tokyo 2020.
Details of the opening ceremony are always confidential. But the questions this time around aren’t about which celebrities will light the cauldron, but rather will the athletes be social distancing and wearing masks as they walk the venue? How much will they walk at all?
One of the symbols of the festive atmosphere of the Olympics has long been its notorious policy of distributing condoms. At the games in Rio de Janeiro, officials distributed 450,000 through vending machines bearing signs that read “Celebrate Condoms.”
This time the number will be 150,000 – but they will only be given to athletes as they leave for their homes.
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