The Olympics are the greatest sporting extravaganza in the world. The Tokyo Olympics and the Paralympics were scheduled to be held in 2020, but had to be postponed in the light of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Games have been deferred to July 2021, and there is a lot of brouhaha both in the domestic Japanese press and the international media regarding whether the Games should go ahead.
There are two kinds of opinions which are prevalent. One strand of opinion says that the Olympics should not be held while the other one says the Olympics should be held.
Why the Olympics Matter to Japan
The president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee Seiko Hashimoto has emphatically noted that she was “100%” certain the Olympics would go ahead.
The Olympics are a test case for Japan, which has been reeling under the impact of the pandemic.
For Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, too, there is a lot at stake, as there are reports that he may be planning a snap election after the Olympics. If he were to lead a successful Olympics, his chances will be greatly increased.
In addition, Japan has an international responsibility as well as one of the members of the G7.
Japan has already spent a huge amount of money in the construction of facilities related to the Olympics, and it will be a big loss just to see it go. Already, the delayed Olympics are said to have cost Japan approximately ¥307 billion JPY ($2.8 billion USD).
Nevertheless, Japan has been taking a series of steps to ensure that the Olympics and the Paralympics go on without any hiccups. No fans from outside Japan will be permitted for either the Olympics or the Paralympics. A total of around 11,000 athletes and thousands of coaches, judges, team officials, and media will arrive in Tokyo for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and all of them will have to adhere to “strict rules on testing, transport, and contact with other people” so that the Games go on smoothly.
Let us examine the main challenges before Japan.
First is the issue of the safety of the athletes. Can that be sufficiently guaranteed?
Already, the Australian softball team has arrived in Japan and this is a big development. They have moved to their training camp in Ota, Gunma Prefecture, even though Japan had extended a modified state of emergency until June 20 in Tokyo, Osaka, and seven other prefectures.
Second, Japan’s aging population and concerns about their health present another challenge. However, Japan began vaccinating citizens age 65 and older as early as April 12.
Third, what if there is an outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic during the Olympics? This is the biggest worry for Japanese authorities, who are preparing for this kind of an incident.
Although Japan is still lagging behind other developed countries when it comes to the percentage of the population that is vaccinated against COVID-19, it seems to have picked up speed with regards to the fight against the pandemic.
Moreover, Japan has progressed enough to feel comfortable sharing its vaccine. Recently, Tokyo sent 1.24 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Taiwan to help it fight a recent surge in COVID-19 cases there.
Now, major Japanese companies and universities have applied to carry out on-site vaccinations, a move that targets immunizing active working people and students who are more likely to be exposed to the virus. This will be a big leg-up for Tokyo’s pandemic-fighting capabilities.
No Time to Turn Back
The Games have already been postponed once, and neither the International Olympic Committee (IOC) nor Tokyo can afford to delay them any longer.
The former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had put a lot of effort into getting the Games to Japan, and it is no wonder many Japanese are keen to go ahead. The Games give a ray of hope to people all over the world at a time when the international community is struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.
While an estimated 79,000 visitors had been expected to arrive from other countries to attend the Games, the numbers will likely be pared down as the situation demands. Luckily for Japan, it has avoided the worst of the contagion seen in many other countries. As of writing, the total number of its cases since the beginning of the pandemic stood at around 775,000, and it has seen around 14,000 deaths.
The IOC has also supported the Japanese government. Its president Thomas Bach has promised that “at least 80% of athletes, coaches, and other staff who stay in the Olympic Village are expected to have received at least one vaccination before the Games begin.”
At the same time, as the vaccination program makes progress and the debate on both sides continues, public support for the Games has been increasing. A recent poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun “found 50% of respondents said the event should go ahead in July.” It is a significant improvement from the 39% figure reflected in a similar survey carried out by the same newspaper in May.
Let the Games begin. After all, the Olympic Games are all about the triumph of the human spirit over all odds.
Many countries all over the world have always looked up to Japan and the can-do attitude of the Japanese. This is the time when it matters the most.
Author: Dr. Rupakjyoti Borah
Dr. Rupakjyoti Borah is a senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies. The views expressed are his own.