After months of crossing fingers and hoping that the Tokyo Olympics could, somehow, go on as scheduled, we’re at the point where the International Olympic Committee and the hosts need to seriously move on to Plan “B” or “C” and prepare for the possibilities of “D” and “E” as well.
As the count of people with the virus worldwide heads toward 300,000 and the death toll tops 11,000 — and counting — clinging to plans to stage the games in Japan from July 24 to Aug. 9 no longer squares with reason.
Even hardcore the-show-must-go-on adherents to the timetable have begun to waffle while officials and athletes have increasingly questioned the wisdom of sticking with the original schedule.
Kaori Yamaguchi, a retired judo athlete and member of the Japanese Olympic Committee’s executive board, told Nikkei, the world’s largest financial newspaper, that she believes the IOC is “putting athletes at risk” by advising them to train as usual during the burgeoning pandemic.
That is becoming even more difficult as countries and municipalities undertake quarantines and social distancing, closing gyms and training facilities.
“Unlike other sporting events, the Olympics symbolize the ideal that sports bring about world peace,” Yamaguchi told Nikkei. “We should not hold (the Games) if people across the world can’t enjoy themselves.”
Fact is there was nothing magical about the July 24-Aug. 9 schedule to begin with. The last time Tokyo hosted the Summer Games, in 1964, they were held October 10-24.
A major reason they are in July and August this year and most years is U.S. television viewership. NBC, which has paid $4.38 billion for the U.S. rights to the games through 2020, wants them in the summer so they won’t go head-to-head with the NFL in the fall.
The acquiescence of the IOC and Japan to the dates was curious considering how brutal the summers have become in Japan due to global warming. In the final week of July and first days of August in 2019, Japan reported 57 deaths and more than 18,000 people hospitalized due to severe heat.
In 2018, 65 people died in a two-week period at the end of July, prompting the country’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency to declare “a natural disaster” as temperatures reached as high as 106 degrees in some areas.
The IOC was able to push through the Games in Moscow (1980) and Los Angeles (1984) during the Cold War. But this isn’t a battle of ideologies; it is a struggle against a killer disease that knows no international boundaries.
We’ve seen up close the training of Olympic hopefuls and the immense preparation and ($26 billion) investment that has taken place in Japan, from Fukuoka to Tokyo. We’ve also witnessed the swelling national pride behind the hosting of these Olympics and the goal of making it an event to be remembered.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that he wants to “hold the Olympics and Paralympics perfectly.”
Caution and the rising impact of a deadly disease suggest that will be hard to do on the current timetable.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 529-4820.