Tokyo Olympics: Summer of 2022?
Long before the pandemic hit, Japan was planning the Tokyo Olympics for 2020. Following the increase in COVID-19 cases around the world, the officials postponed the event until the summer of 2021. If the Olympics are to continue this year, the games will still be called the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, as all merchandise and banners will reflect.
The Tokyo Games are currently scheduled to proceed from July 23 to August 8. The correlating Paralympics, also delayed by a year, are to take place from August 24 to September 5. The summer sports in any given Olympics include basketball, cycling, equestrian events, soccer, golf, swimming, gymnastics, tennis, weightlifting, fencing, archery, and longer events such as the pentathlon and triathlon. Baseball and softball will return after a 13-year absence; some others include karate, surfing, sport climbing, and skateboarding.
The large question on everyone’s mind is: how will it work, given continued concerns about the pandemic? While few details exist about changes to specific sports, here is a likely scenario: many athletes from all over the world, from both large and small countries will be traveling to Japan for the Olympics. International spectators, including families of the athletes, will not be allowed in the arenas to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19. Although there are limits to non-athletes, more than 11,000 athletes from over 200 countries are expected to participate this summer.
There have been no plans to vaccinate the athletes due to pushback against the Japanese government when they announced their proposal to prioritize athletes rather than the medical workers or the elderly. Without vaccinations, the country will rely on testing; international participants are required to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before they travel to Japan, where they will be retested to confirm the result.
According to the Olympic volunteers, everyone will be given a small bottle of hand sanitizer and two masks each. The Olympic organizers have stated that they have published a pamphlet of all the necessary COVID-19 precautions necessary for volunteers, such as mask wearing, keeping six feet apart, and washing hands often. Even though there seems to be many different precautions, there is no guarantee that the Olympics this summer will not be a super-spreader event.
“How do we make this happen?” or “Should we make this happen?”
Starting in mid-April, there suddenly was a larger concern about the very feasibility of the event. The question stopped being “How do we make this happen?” and started being “Should we make this happen?” Japan continues to have an increasing number of COVID-19 cases along with a low vaccination rate, especially compared to the United States and European nations. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan pledged to secure 100 million doses of the vaccines by the end of June. Some might say that his plan is far-fetched because Japan has only vaccinated 1.1% of their 126 million citizens. Prime Minister Suga also added that the government would do “everything possible” to prevent further spread of the virus ahead of the Games, but made no promises.
Surveys show that 80% of people in Japan think the Games should not be held this summer. If the Olympics were cancelled, then investors would lose billions of dollars and the organizers say that postponing it to 2022 is not possible. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) relies on selling broadcast rights for 73% of its income, and has seen its cash flow choked by the previous postponement from 2020 to 2021. Japan has already invested at least $15 billion to organize the Olympics-- $9.3 billion of which is public money--and national audits suggest it might cost twice that much. Organizers had hoped to generate $800 million from ticket sales, but most of that will be lost due to the pandemic and international fans not being allowed to the Olympics, so the Japanese government and public will unfortunately take a major financial hit.
While the government and Olympic organizers press for the games to take place this summer, many health experts believe that the plans for the event should be reconsidered. A survey of more than 1,000 Japanese doctors last month showed that 75% believed it was better to postpone the Games. Now, not only is there public support for postponement, but medical support. However, the Japanese government and Olympic committee officials are refusing to budge for the upcoming games.
The Tokyo Olympics are to start in less than 85 days. Will the Japanese government prioritize its citizens or the Tokyo Olympics?