by Lindsay Wong
Image: Dakiny / CreativeCommons
The upcoming Tokyo Olympics has sparked a very unique debate concerning the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic: should the games be held or cancelled? While it looks like the games have gotten the green light to go ahead and are slated to begin on July 23rd, the public is concerned about the threats posed by a global pandemic and whether it would be wise to hold the Olympics. The majority of the Japanese public wish to postpone the games or cancel them altogether, but the International Olympics Committee is certain that the games will be safe for all participating since all athletes would be getting vaccinated.
Hosting the Olympics in 2021 does have a range of benefits. The Olympics is the place where athletes can showcase their years of training and hard work to a global audience and potentially make a name for themselves, thereby boosting their careers. They spend months training just for the Olympics, since it is such a special, hard-earned opportunity for which it is difficult enough just to qualify. For many athletes, it might be their last chance to get a medal or their last international competition.
Additionally, there are financial benefits for both athletes and their sponsors. Athletes make their living by participating in athletic competitions, and an international audience (around 3 billion people watch the Olympics) would be crucial in supporting their livelihood. The Japanese government has spent a lot of money (an estimated $14 billion USD) investing in the construction of arenas and stadiums dedicated to the various Olympic sports, including a brand new stadium. If the Olympics were cancelled, it would be a waste to leave these new facilities stranded and barren.
In a world rife with conflict, the Olympics could facilitate stronger feelings of solidarity across the world. The Olympics have greatly improved international relations in the past, such as between conflicting countries like China and Taiwan, as well as North and South Korea. Sportsmanship between competitors offers unity and hope not only to athletes but also to spectators. The power of sport fosters unity through good-natured competition, which is what the Olympics were founded on.
Nevertheless, hosting the Olympics could have severe negative consequences. When the Australian Open (for tennis) was held earlier this year in January, it triggered a surge in cases as athletes and their team members contracted the coronavirus. This posed a threat to the local community that previously had few cases to none at all. CDC COVID-19 guidelines have advised people not to travel to Japan. The Olympics involves at least 10,000 athletes, not including the personnel that accompanies them, flying in from all around the world. The risks are high, especially since the coronavirus is an airborne disease. Furthermore, many of the athletes are coming from high-risk countries, making the threat even bigger. There are currently plans to vaccinate all the athletes before they compete, but this will not prevent the virus from being transmitted. Being ill and symptoms like headaches, fever, body aches, difficulty in breathing and a cough will undoubtedly hinder the athlete’s performance, if they were to contract the virus. Nevertheless, if they are vaccinated, their symptoms are predicted to be not as severe compared to if they were not vaccinated.
Furthermore, Japan is ill-equipped to deal with a surge in coronavirus cases. Japan is currently experiencing its fourth wave of lockdowns. Compared to other Asian countries, Japan never took strict measures to enforce a lockdown. The most that has been done was for the government to declare a state of emergency on multiple occasions. Apart from the closures of certain facilities and earlier closures of restaurants and shops, life has carried on, more or less as normal. The government has not vaccinated the population even though they have the supply for it – only less than 1% of the entire population has gotten the vaccine. If athletes are pouring into the country by the thousands, the local community will not be adequately protected by new strains of the virus. Hence, the local community do not want the Olympics to be held because it would threaten their health. A recent poll reported that more than 80% of Japanese citizens wanted to postpone or cancel the Olympics. Towns that were supposed to host Olympic villages for the athletes have stated that they do not want the athletes in their village because they could be bringing the coronavirus to their community.
Despite the debate surrounding the event, we can only witness what happens at the Olympics when they begin at the end of July and hope that no one falls sick. Nevertheless, it is in the interest of both participating athletes and Japanese citizens that the Olympic games should be cancelled or postponed. While this could infringe on athletes’ careers and plans, their lives are more important than models. There will still be smaller international competitions that they could participate in. Nothing is worth risking lives for.