Tokyo Olympics dilemma: ‘To hold or not to hold’

Published May 30, 2021, 12:43 AM

by Manila Bulletin

With less than two months before the scheduled opening of the summer Olympics in Tokyo on July 21, Asahi Shimbun, one of the media sponsors, has published an editorial entitled, “Prime Minister Suga, please call off the Olympics.”

Three reasons were cited for the call to cancel the Olympics.  First: “People’s lives and health come first.”  Second: Continuing the games would be tantamount to “gambling” with serious consequences if the planned health and safety measures turn out to be inadequate.  Third: Carrying on with the games would violate the Olympic spirit.

With the expected entry of an estimated 90,000 athletes and Olympic-related personnel at a time when new variants of the novel coronavirus are still rampant, there is apprehension that the Japanese people’s health would be compromised by the holding of the games.  As only a limited fraction of the Japanese population has been vaccinated thus far, there is great anxiety that the Olympics could be a ‘super-spreader’ event — even with the announced restrictions on limiting the spectators in the various event venues.

Given the foregoing concerns, the Asahi Shimbun editorial asks:What meaning is there in holding the Olympics when people’s activities are being restricted and their daily lives have become difficult?”

The chairperson of the Olympic organizing committee acknowledges that “there (is) a considerable number of Japanese people who are concerned.” Two prominent business leaders have stated that considering the apparent risks, “we might have a lot more to lose” while another called the games “a suicide mission.”

The New York based global communications consultancy firm Kekst CNC conducted a survey among 1,000 respondents in six countries to evaluate policies pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the holding of the Olympic games in Tokyo. Their report stated that in Japan, 56 percent were opposed; in Britain, 55 percent; Germany, 52 percent; Sweden, 46 percent; and France, 37 percent.  The respondents in the United States were equally divided at 33 percent.  The White House press secretary affirmed that the US is aware of “very specific entry and movement rules and procedures which the organizers have laid out to ensure the protection of everyone involved.”

Last December 2020, about 68 major Japanese firms reiterated their financial commitment to the games after these were postponed to this summer due to the pandemic.  Latest government estimates placed the cost of the games at $16.7 billion, of which $3.3 billion has been contributed by the private sector.

Meantime, the Philippine Olympic Committee appears determined to participate; the city of Manila has committed to undertake the vaccination of the 730-person delegation.

The holding of the Olympics has always drawn record television audiences so it is reasonable to surmise that majority public opinion would prefer that the games continue.  But the pandemic has also generated a greater sense of empathy and compassion — which is why it is not difficult for the global audience to identify with the health concerns of the Japanese people.