Gravitas: With uncertainties still mongering over Tokyo Games, how difficult is the way ahead

To be or not to be, that is the question being asked about the Tokyo Olympics. Originally scheduled for 24th July 2020, now rescheduled to be held around July 24, 2021, because of the Wuhan Pandemic. If a report from the British newspaper The Times is to be believed, then the Tokyo Olympics may not happen anytime soon. The paper claims, “The Japanese government has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics is cancelled because of the Wuhan virus. They will now focus on securing the games in the city in the next available cycle which is 2032.” 

Japan has rubbished this report stating that it is determined to host the Olympics this summer. Manabu Sakai, the Deputy Chief Cabinet secretary, rubbished the report by stating, “We clearly deny that report. It is a symbolic event of humanity that will overcome the novel coronavirus and it is a chance to showcase Japan’s reconstruction from the devastating north-eastern earthquake and Tsunami to the world.”

What about Japan’s devastation when it comes to the coronavirus? Japan had declared an emergency around the Tokyo area cluster about a fortnight ago. The emergency has now been extended to seven more areas. The Wuhan virus cases are surging in the country. Japan has recorded over 345,000 cases so far. More than 4700 people have died. Experts say that for Japan to host the Olympic games safely this year, it must vaccinate the entire population. But, do the Japanese want to be inoculated? There is a large vaccine mistrust in Japan. 

History of tragedy

In a recent survey, it was found that 48 per cent of its respondents wanted to be vaccinated. Why? History has an answer to that question. In 1948, Japan lost many babies to the faulty Diphtheria vaccine. In 1989, some children developed aseptic meningitis after receiving the MMR vaccine. In 1992, a Japanese court held the Government liable for vaccine-related adverse reactions. In 1994, Japan scrapped mandatory inoculation.

Japan has not even begun the Wuhan virus Vaccination drive. It needs to vaccinate 127 million people. How will Japan do that in six months? There are deals in place with Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna. Government has kept aside USD 14 billion for the project. But what it also needs to budget for is time. 

Reports say that Japan’s vaccination program might begin around February and like most countries, Tokyo will vaccinate their frontline health workers first. But what about the travel and hospitality sector? Over 11000 athletes from nearly 200 countries may be flying in for these games. Organisers will take a call around February or March as to whether spectators can attend the games. What about the organisers and volunteers? Should they not be inoculated as soon as possible? How else will these games be safe? 

Economic costs or people’s lives?

These are difficult questions. Matt Carroll, CEO of the Australian Olympic Committee, said, “Unfortunately, I have to address some rumours regarding the Tokyo Olympics been cancelled. Rumours will cause even more anxiety to the athletes. The Tokyo Games are on. The flame will be lit on July 23, 2021.” 

The fact is that if the games do not happen, then the IOC will have a hole in its pocket. The Games have been planned at the cost of USD 12 billion dollars. There will be a huge economic loss. But what about the risk to people’s lives and safety? According to a recent survey conducted by Kyodo News, 80 per cent of Japanese want the Olympics to be either cancelled or postponed. Tokyo Olympics CEO is relying on vaccination to change public opinion. 

Toshiro Muto, CEO of Tokyo Olympics 2020, said, “If coronavirus infections spread more and more, then it is natural that people will worry about it. We are hopeful that the situation will improve and public opinion will also improve. 

The Tokyo Olympics is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Japan but the Wuhan virus is also a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. Even if Japan is forced to cancel the games, there is nothing to be ashamed of.

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Sagar Biswas

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