Tokyo Olympics which are going to be held from July 23 to August 8 will be the first major test of international community to safely hold a large sporting event amid pandemic protocols. A total of 11,000 Olympic and 4,400 Paralympic athletes along with tens of thousands of staff, coaches, judges, Olympic federation officials are entering Tokyo for the event that was postponed last year in March.
The pandemic has fluctuated wildly, with big outbreaks in several parts of the world, killing millions, crippling economies, leading to emergence of deadly variants across the globe. When the sporting event was suspended, the world had a total of 375,000 cases. Today, the virus has so far infected over 180 million and killed over 3.9 million worldwide. Still, the Olympic committee is cautiously optimistic of holding the event safely and confident of the efficacy of safety protocols, even as the Japanese capital remains in emergency mode and cases are rising.
Just yesterday, Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Olympics organising committee, said the option of a “no-spectator games” remains on the table. The remark came just four days after she said 10,000 local spectators or up to 50 per cent of venue capacity would be allowed. Medical experts are pressing for a no-fan event. The dilemma of the Olympic committee shows that the only thing that is certain in a pandemic era is uncertainty. The situation in many parts of the world, including Japan, is so fluid that it is impossible to plan beyond a few days.
Still, the games will go ahead as per the schedule and the challenge is to come up with protocols that are effective in preventing outbreaks at the games village and at arenas. The committee will have to face the anger of sponsors and broadcasters who have spent $4 billion, if it goes ahead with a no-fan games, a possibility that can’t be ruled at this point. The Japanese government has spent close to $15.4 billion on the event. In a rare public statement, a Japanese royal agency said Emperor Naruhito is “extremely worried” about the health risks.
If the games are held without any significant outbreaks, the event will become a blueprint for other countries. Public opinion remains split in the country where only 9 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. The challenges before the committee and Tokyo organisers are to reassure people about safety protocols and to ensure that preventive strategies work when the games begin next month.