Every four years, some of the world’s finest athletes gather to compete for Olympic gold.
Or, as is the case this time around, every five years, with last year’s Tokyo Olympics pushed back to this year, and slated to run from July 23 through to August 8.
If you’re keen to start the countdown to the opening ceremony in less than six months, you may want to pump the breaks a little, because despite what organisers in Tokyo are saying, nothing is really set in stone.
The 2016 event saw more than 11 000 athletes descend on Rio, and when you factor in support staff, media personnel, and everything else it takes to make things run seamlessly, can Japan really pull this off in the time of COVID-19?
For a start, Japan doesn’t have a handle on things at present, reports The Sydney Morning Herald, but organisers are keen to steamroll ahead anyway:
The International Olympic Committee’s announcement that “there is no Plan B” for the Tokyo Olympics and they will proceed in July, despite Japan’s massive third wave of COVID-19, defies public health logic…
Japan’s third wave has not yet reached its peak. The country’s testing rate is also the lowest in the developed world, meaning the actual number of cases could well be higher than the official figures. The measures the government has taken to control spread of the virus are inadequate and hopes that mass vaccination will solve the problem are unrealistic…
A successful Olympics would provide a welcome boost to the world’s morale but it could lead to quite the opposite, given the situation in Japan. While a major super-spreading event is possible, even a lower level of transmission could cause chaos. Officials and volunteers would suddenly be absent. Athletes may miss crucial races. Team sports could be cancelled.
A recent poll in Japan found that 77% of respondents felt the Olympics should be postponed again or completely cancelled. Only 16% were in favour of the event taking place.
Those who are desperate for the Games to go ahead seem to have pinned much of their hope on vaccines saving the day, but, as mentioned above, that is both unrealistic and ignorant of the fact that athletes jumping the queue isn’t a great look.
Speaking late last year, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach backed vaccines to make a huge difference, whilst also rejecting claims that athletes would have to be vaccinated to take part.
Last week, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said the same thing, so how do they intend to keep everyone safe?
Below via CNN:
…the IOC pointed to a statement released on Tuesday outlining a “toolbox of Covid-19 countermeasures” to be implemented during the Games, including “immigration procedures, quarantine measures, testing, personal protective equipment, contact tracing and vaccinations.”
…”The IOC continues to strongly support the priority of vaccinating vulnerable groups, nurses, medical doctors and everyone who is keeping our societies safe.”
It’s expected that Japanese medical workers will be vaccinated from the end of February. Around 36 million people aged 65 and over would be next, starting in April, with a timeline of three months expected to complete that round.
By the time the Games started on July 23, there would still be a huge number of the Japanese public who were not vaccinated.
Some international athletes seeking to get vaccinated before the Games begin would need to have their jabs fast-tracked, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Here’s Jason Kindrachuk, an infectious disease expert at the University of Manitoba in Canada:
“We can’t just think about this in terms of the athletes, because it’s not only the athletes that that are going to be a part of the Olympics — you have the organizing committees that are involved, you have all the people that are providing support, you have all the trainers,” says Kindrachuk.
“All of those are potential wheelbarrows for the virus coming into the community … You look at this idea of putting people into an international location from all over the world — we only need one individual to kick off that transmission chain.”
Last week, it was rumoured that Japanese authorities had privately concluded that the Olympics could not proceed as planned, but organisers were swift to hit back.
Bach said that organisers “are not speculating on whether the games will take place, we are working on how the Games will take place”, but the mood remains cautious among many of the Olympics’ biggest sponsors and advertisers.
You can’t help but feel for the athletes, who have trained for years in the hopes of representing their nation at the Olympics, but there’s certainly a degree of recklessness to those pushing for things to go ahead.
Let’s end on a high note, and watch Wayde van Niekerk’s outrageous 400m gold medal from Rio 2016:
As Chad le Clos’ father, Bert, might say, ‘uuuuunbelievable‘.
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