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  • Writer's pictureThe Honest Critique

The Olympic Dilemma- Should it be held or not?

"Never before had the Olympic Games been postponed or cancelled for reasons other than war, but the world has rarely come to a halt like it has lately over the coronavirus. Olympics have been rescheduled before in 1916, 1940, and 1944 due to global conflicts. The 2020 Olympics, which seemed to be the final big sporting event unaffected by the coronavirus strain known formally as COVID-19, provided a ray of hope for the entire world. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Shinjo Abe of Japan and President Thomas Bach of the International Olympic Committee agreed to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by nearly a year."

It was rescheduled from July 23 to August 8, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.

The Japanese government is keen to hold the Olympics for the obvious prestige and to celebrate Japan's virtues and strengths globally. It wants to reprise the glory of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and lift national and global spirits that have plummeted during the pandemic. It also hopes to jolt a moribund economy.

It’s crunch time for the 2021 summer Olympics. With Covid-19 cases increasing at an unprecedented rate in Japan, Prime Minister Suga has declared emergencies in nine prefectures across the country, including Tokyo, which will host the Olympics. When Japan recorded less than 1,000 Covid-19 infections on a seven-day average in March 2021, experts thought the country had beaten the epidemic for the third time in a year. Things began to change mid-April, when the fourth wave of Covid-19 struck Japan. According to Johns Hopkins University, Japan's Covid-19 instances surpassed 7,000 for the first time since mid-January on May 8, and the country's seven-day average now stands above 4000.

With only 2.4 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated, Japan's vaccine rollout is among the slowest in the world. It started inoculating people from February ‘21, much later than other developed nations. The government has only lately begun widespread vaccination efforts in Tokyo and Osaka. Only individuals over the age of 65 are expected to be fully vaccinated by the end of July. About 4.7 percent of the country's seniors — those over 65 — have gotten at least one dose of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines so far. However, due to supply limitations, development is slow.

An estimated 100,000 people, including authorities, journalists, coaches, volunteers, and the athletes, will be in Tokyo for the Olympics. Since understanding figures in Japanese may be a bit confusing, let us broadly say that the Olympics in Tokyo are going to cost Japan about USD 25 billion. Only USD 6.7 billion of this money is public money. The buzz has grown, but as the country confronts a fourth wave of COVID-19, two schools of thought have emerged.

On one hand, despite widespread criticism and a one-year postponement, the Tokyo Olympics are set to take place. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has maintained its position of “absolute yes." John Coates, IOC vice president and chairman of the IOC coordination panel for Tokyo, underlined the IOC's commitment to hosting the Games. Coates stated during a recent press conference with The New York Times, “All of the plans to protect the safety and security of athletes are based around the worst possible circumstances. So, the answer is absolutely yes.” According to The Guardian, IOC president Thomas Bach recently said while addressing the International Hockey Federation (IHF): “The athletes definitely can make their Olympic dreams come true.”

On the other hand, in Japan, opposition to the Games amidst a pandemic has intensified, with one of the country's most powerful businessmen publicly criticising the government for continuing with the Games in a tweet that went viral. SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son tweeted, “More than 80% of people want the Olympics to be postponed or cancelled. Who and on what authority is it being forced through?”- throwing shade on the Tokyo 2020 games.

Surveys from the primary months of 2021 showed that an increasing share of the Japanese population were favouring another postponement or cancellation. Earlier this month, two surveys conducted by Japan’s newspaper ‘Asahi Shimbun’, revealed that more than 80% of the citizens surveyed believed the Games should not go on.

IOC’s reasoning to hold the Games was clearly different from popular opinion in Japan and his decision to accept the Games merely served as a reminder of the IOC's arrogance. One of the major concerns was the possibility of the event becoming a super-spreader.

The Japanese sponsors were to initially contribute a record of USD 3.3 billion to the Olympic budget, but the postponement pushed it past USD 3.5 billion. This is perhaps three times — larger than any previous Olympics. It is tribute indeed to Japanese nationalism that not one of the 68 sponsors committed to the Tokyo Games backed out due to the escalation of costs. For Japanese business, the Tokyo Games are a national cause that goes beyond discussions on profit. Sponsors like the airline ANA and Japan Airlines are among those struggling during the pandemic, but they are steadfastly continuing to contribute.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the IOC generates 75% of its money from selling Olympic television rights and another 18% through sponsorship arrangements. Meanwhile, the Japanese government has spent over USD 15.4 billion on the Games which will be lost if the games are cancelled. However, if the games are hosted and a rapid increase in diseases occurs, the financial damage could be larger.

It is a fluid situation indeed. Sporting events have opened up elsewhere in the world and have been conducted smoothly, without many complications.

The Tokyo Olympics involve 206 nations, will have 11,091 athletes competing in 339 events across 33 sports and 50 disciplines. The scale and magnitude are daunting.

As a sports enthusiast, I hope the Olympics happen on schedule, and run smoothly. Japan has its national reputation at stake. They deserve to successfully conduct Olympics. So do the Athletes who have been toiling very hard to compete this time and win accolades to their country.

(Written by Siddhipriya Chatterjee)

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