By Luis Armando Sanchez Diaz, June 14, 2021—
It’s been almost eight years since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced Tokyo as the winning city to host the 2020 Olympic games, beating the bids presented by Istanbul and Madrid and marking the first time since 1964 that the games would take place in the Asian nation. The news came two years after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated portions of Japan and caused more than 18,000 casualties.
“A safe and secure Olympic Games will be staged by us — I think that was another hope for their support. I would like to pledge that we will be discharging this responsibility,” said now-former Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe the day the news broke, as reported by CNN.
Since then, everything had elapsed normally, including the rebuilding of the National Stadium that served as the main facility during the 1964 Olympic Games and that will now host the opening and closing ceremonies for this years’ games. The stadium was inaugurated in December 2019 and has the capacity for 68,000 attendees.
However, things dramatically changed on March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 global pandemic. The world slowly began to wrap its head around what the new health emergency entailed, which included the halting of all massive public events and the implementation of travel restrictions by some nations to avoid the propagation of the virus.
Weeks after, Abe and IOC President Thomas Bach, announced a one-year postponement to the Tokyo 2020 games due to the ongoing threat of the virus. The announcement marked a milestone in the history of the Olympic Games as no games had ever been rescheduled as a result of a global health crisis, and are the first ones since World War I and World War II not to be hosted on the years they were supposed to happen.
“The IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,” read a news release by the Olympics’ webpage.
The games are set to begin on July 23 and will end on Aug. 8 during which approximately 205 countries are expected to participate in over 40 sports.
In the aftermath of the delay, the total cost of the games has increased USD $2.8 billion, elevating the total cost to around USD $26 billion — making them the priciest summer Olympic games in history — an amount way higher than the initial estimated cost of $7.3 billion USD when Japan won the bid to host the games, according to Business Insider.
Health experts are expressing their concerns about the occurrence of the games due to the current circumstance. They’re pointing out the low level of vaccinated people in Japan, as only 7.21 per cent of people have received at least one shot as of May 31 according to the CTV News vaccine tracker — in contrast with Canada’s figure that stands at 57.3 per cent. Moreover, several cities across Japan have imposed new lockdown measures in late April due to the recent COVID-19 outbreaks.
Japanese people know the risks and the vast majority are not willing to hold the games and put the entire population in danger, even if international spectators are banned from attending any events — who could potentially bring into Japan emergent variants, worsening the situation. Polls are showing that greater than 70 per cent of Japanese want the games to either be cancelled or postponed, while less than a quarter want the games to go as planned. Those that think that investments and reputation are worth more than a person’s life and wellbeing are on the wrong side of the issue — a side that shows how inequitable and self-centered their mindsets can become.
Ultimately, the thing that matters the most is the health of Japanese people and those of the hundreds of participants who attend the event — hosting the games this upcoming summer is not worth it on any ground. Over the past year and a half, we have witnessed the impacts of COVID-19 and the way the world has battled relentlessly to contain a virus that has infected more than 170 million people and taken the lives of more than 3.6 million people — as of early June. Hosting the Games this summer would only demonstrate how some members of society still don’t comprehend the danger that newly high-transmissible variants pose.
For the safety of citizens, staff, organizers and all participants, I urge for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to be postponed once again until the end of the summer or mid-fall when more people are vaccinated and the potential of new COVID outbreaks is low. It would be a challenging thing to do — athletes have trained and worked hard for years to reach this moment, contracts have been signed and billions have been invested — but we are under an unprecedented health crisis and unprecedented measures need to be taken. We all have given up something during this pandemic and choosing between competing and staying healthy should not be a predicament athletes must be in.
If the games do happen — a decision that will be known very soon — I hope everyone can be safe. Safety is something that can be achieved if participants and organizers follow social distancing measures and get routinely tested — even if some will be vaccinated by then. Lastly, the only thing that can be said is good luck to all teams, especially to team Canada — may the best nation win.