Hindsight is the clearest of all vision. Instant video replay provides opportunity for granular analysis. Every frame could be frozen to study every action taken, every word spoken. In real-time, the world operates on foresight. Likely scenarios are imagined. Plans are crafted to achieve specific goals. Actions are taken on the basis of logic and gut feel, intuition and inspiration.
A month ago, who would have imagined that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – already postponed for a year – would turn out the way it did?
Dire forecasts abounded. It would be a super-spreader event, as host country Japan was struggling to cope with the pandemic. Cases were rising amid a slow pace of vaccination. Even major Japanese sponsors had become skeptical; leading newspapers called on the Prime Minister to cancel the games.
Speaking at the closing ceremony last August 8, International Olympic Committee Chairman Thomas Bach said:
“In these difficult times, you give the world the most precious of gifts:
Hope. For the first time since the pandemic began, the entire world came together. Sport returned to center stage. Billions of people around the globe were united by emotion, sharing moments of joy and inspiration. This gives us hope. This gives us faith in the future.”
Hope trumped despair.
First off, the Olympic games did not turn out to be a super-spreader of the coronavirus disease – thanks to effective COVID containment measures.
Since the start of July 2021, a total of 430 persons associated with the holding of the games, tested COVID-positive. Two-thirds were Japanese residents; the rest were from overseas. More than half (236) were contract workers, followed by 109 games participants and 28 athletes. Only 32 of those infected stayed in the 18,000-bed Olympic village where more than 11,000 athletes from 206 countries were billeted for the duration of the competition.
As reported by Kyodo News, even while Tokyo and some areas of Japan under a COVID-19 state of emergency continued to reel from record numbers of coronavirus cases, the number of infections directly associated with the Olympic stayed at very low levels as the organizers had created a bubble isolation system.
The bottomline, as Kyodo News reports: “The low rate is why a leading health advisor to the International Olympic Committee has said a ‘safe and secure’ games has been delivered and the pandemic has been kept at bay.”
This significant achievement demonstrates that a well-planned and carefully executed bubble system could enable countries and economies to recover and rebuild safely. In the United States, the National Basketball Association (NBA) also successfully completed an up-scaled tournament – and ended its season a day before the Tokyo Olympics opened.
Secondly, as observed by journalist Fareed Zakaria: “The Tokyo Olympics was a triumph of logistics and global cooperation during the biggest health crisis of the century.” It was also, undeniably, a “testament to perseverance.”
He reported that as many as 30,000 people involved in the Olympics were tested everyday. Since the late 60s, drug testing has been a hallmark of the due diligence efforts to ferret out cheaters who may have taken performance-enhancing drugs. This time, the focus was on addressing a key public health concern. The objective was to keep the athletes and the Games COVID-free. This was carried out resolutely despite the shortage of medical workers.
Logistical challenges were hurdled. The Sri Lankan delegation took a circuitous route via Qatar in view of flight restrictions. The Fiji delegation rode on a cargo plane that carried frozen food. About 300 horses that took part in the equestrian events were flown to Tokyo. Thousands of tons of sand had to be transported from Vietnam for the beach volleyball event.
Lessons on global cooperation learned from the Tokyo Games could be applied in addressing the problem of vaccine inequity. Zakaria points out that while the rich countries have attained about 50 percent full immunization, the comparable figure for the poor nations is a dismal one percent. Clearly, a massive turnaround from elite selfishness to Olympian solidarity could be the key to solving this massive humanitarian crisis.
The closing ceremonies in Japan took place against the backdrop of a clear night sky that enabled worldwide spectators to marvel at the fireworks and digital optical projections. Halfway across the globe, the French mounted a separate celebration on a bright Sunday afternoon in Paris under the shadow of the iconic Eiffel Tower.
Meantime, Filipinos watched the spectacle remotely from the comfort of their homes – or on shared community television. From high anxiety and deep despair brought on by an oppressive pandemic, the days following Hidylin Diaz’s epic gold medal achievement – and the equally heroic efforts of our other medalists and Olympians – have provided a healing balm of hope and faith that a brighter future beckons.