Surreal? Or Unfortunate?
The decision to host the Tokyo Olympics without spectators on Thursday hardly surprised anybody - as it was possibly the only way to ensure that the Games could go ahead in face of the sustained criticism by the people of Tokyo with repeated calls for it to be cancelled.
An apologetic Thomas Bach, President of International Olympic Committee (IOC), regretted the decision on Saturday as much for the athletes as well as the spectators and as a former Olympian fencer - he knows better. If there is any sporting spectacle across the world where the athletes feed off the energy from the sight of their national flags and the jingoistic overtone at the venues - be it at a track and field event or a boxing ring - it’s the multi-discipline arena of Olympics.
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While the stakeholders - the organising committee, IOC and Japanese government were unanimous in their decision, the unfortunate part is that the world of sport has failed to arrive at a common ground as far as conducting the mega events are concerned. Hence, one has got the Euro 2020 taking place with a healthy percentage of spectators across the 11 venues of Europe, the Centre Court at the Wimbledon looks choc-a-bloc, Royal Ascot had the racing afficionados in their hats and finery - but the super athletes of the world are expected to live up to the demanding principles of Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) across empty venues.
It could be an interesting subject of research if some of the marquee events like athletics and swimming - where the cheers of the crowd act as the biggest pace-setter, will suffer in terms of quality of competition. It’s also hardly a win-win situation for Japan as the government and organisers had long seen the event as a chance to display the country’s recovery from a devastating 2011 earthquake and nuclear crisis.
Bach tried to elevate the mood by saying that Tokyo is in perfect readiness while the athletes - who will be allowed to travel to Tokyo only five days before their respective events - can focus on their competitions.
There will be increased visual content production from the venues, making it a TV-only event to survive the times of pandemic with a potential audience of more than five billion people - with more coverage promised by broadcast partners than any previous Olympic Games across both linear TV and digital platforms.
There is, however, a widespread apprehension if making the Games spectator-free (overseas visitors had been banned about a month ago), is a guarantee that the Games will not act as a super-spreader. There will be more than 10,000 athletes from across the globe, add to that the number of officials, volunteers while Tokyo have invited themselves a humongous task of vaccinating all and sundry before the Games.
It’s quite a Catch-22 situation - and one can hope and pray that it should pass off without a health emergency.