Think back to January: Daily COVID-19 cases in the U.S. had just hit a new high, people were still discouraged from socializing, and many businesses were either closed or under restrictions. At this point, less than 10 percent of the country’s population had been vaccinated, news reports showed new variants of the virus emerging around the world, and there were strict requirements for foreign travel. But imagine the White House saying then that it planned to allow 80,000 people from more than 200 different countries to come into the United States within two months of January, because it had agreed to host a major sporting event.
This is the predicament Japan finds itself in right now, and it’s understandably why so many there want the Tokyo Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games to be canceled or postponed again.
But the Games should go on — and with good reason. With their scheduled start fewer than 50 days away, the Japanese government has sped up its vaccine distribution which, until recently, had been quite slow. A couple of months ago, one estimate suggested it could take Japan until late 2022 to get 70 percent of its population vaccinated. Now, at least 1-in-3 people in Japan may be vaccinated by the start of the Games. At this rate, at least 70 percent of the population could be vaccinated by the end of the year.
There are fears that foreign teams could bring COVID-19 variants to Japan, but recent spikes in new daily cases also show that Japan no longer can hesitate to vaccinate. Proceeding with the Games will encourage Japan to continue to invest in a speedy distribution of vaccines.
Continuing with the Games, though, can be politically risky for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration, especially if new COVID-19 cases spread as a result of the Games. Not only is the risk to life concerning but increased cases could mean some prefectures in Japan may have to extend their state-of-emergency declarations. But canceling the Games isn’t without its cost, either. Estimates place the cost of canceling the Olympics at upwards of $17 billion — though it doesn’t help that the organizers also spent $3 billion more on the Games than originally planned. Then again, hosting the Games isn’t always about economic profit.
The Olympic Games are symbolic. Of course, the Games hold different meanings for a lot of people. For the athletes, it’s a chance to show the world that they’re the best. For the countries these athletes represent, each medal is a badge of pride. For spectators, it’s a chance to marvel at how far athletics has progressed. And for the host nation, it’s a privilege to show the world a little bit of the culture it has to offer.
This year, the Games also can show the world that there just might be a light at the end of this global COVID-19 crisis.
Furthermore, the Games can offer a much-needed distraction for many who are still stuck at home. Much like ancient Rome and the gladiator games that took place, the Olympic Games offer spectators and politicians alike a chance to escape, even for a brief moment, from today’s troubles. Even people who aren’t regular sports fans can become “experts” in events such as beach volleyball, gymnastics or diving for two weeks during these quadrennial games.
A few weeks ago, the White House said during a press briefing that it trusts the government of Japan and respects its decisions. Other world leaders also have expressed support for the Tokyo Games. In the end, it’s Tokyo’s decision whether to host the Games or not. It will be Japan that takes all the risks in welcoming athletes, after all. And it shouldn’t matter whether groups such as the International Olympic Committee would be upset about a last-minute cancellation — but hopefully, it won’t come to that.
Getting to this point already has been much like a Greek tragedy, with controversy followed by new controversy. The original Games’ logos had to be scrapped because of a plagiarism claim. Then COVID-19 happened, pushing the Games back by one year. Meanwhile, staff members affiliated with the Tokyo Games have resigned for making offensive remarks, including the head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee.
And yet, the Games should go on. Surely, the Suga administration will continue to do what it can to make sure that Japan hosts a Summer Olympics that is safe, secure and enjoyable for everyone watching.
Read in The Hill