Tokyo Olympics: Should the Games take place despite alarming situation in Japan? Zee News explains


Will the Tokyo Olympics happen this summer? – It is the question everyone is asking, the question for which people around the globe have an opinion but sadly no one has an answer. 

The 2020 Summer Olympic Games, which got postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are scheduled to take place between 23 July and 8 August 2021. However, no one can be sure of any plan in these unprecedented times and the deadly coronavirus has once again cast doubt on Tokyo Olympics, which as of now are taking place as scheduled.  

When the event got cancelled in 2020, there was little doubt that the situation would have stabilised in time for a full, normal Olympic Games in the summer of 2021. However, fast-forward a year and the situation in Japan has changed little with the start date rapidly approaching. 

Notably, Japan is battling its fourth wave of the pandemic, with Tokyo, Osaka and a number of other prefectures all under a state of emergency, and reportedly only 4.4 percent of its popoulation been vaccinated. 

But it seems like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president Joan Coates is not perturbed by the current situation in Japan and has declared the Olympics to remain on course despite the crisis. When asked if the Games will be held even if Tokyo remains under a state of emergency, his reply was unequivocal: “Absolutely, yes.” 

Surprisingly, Japanese officials, Olympics organisers and IOC members are in favour of conducting the Tokyo Olympics as per the schedule while sidelining the risk factor involved in it. 

Will and should Tokyo Olympics go on? – Zee News explains different factors which might decide the fate of the marquee event.

COVID-19 situation in Japan 

The fourth wave of COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in Japan due to which large parts of the country are under a state of emergency until the end of May, with some areas facing restrictions until 20 June. 

Talking about the host city, Tokyo, the new COVID-19 infections have slowed down, but the strain on the healthcare system in the Japanese capital remains severe. Of late, Tokyo and many other cities have seen a record number of patients in critical care, increasing pressure on the hospitals. 

Since last year there have been around 720,000 cases and 12,200 deaths related to COVID in Japan.  

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Moreover, Japan only began vaccinating people in February, later than most other developed nations and so far, and reportedly about 2.9 million people of the country are fully vaccinated.

Citizens of Japan against Tokyo Olympics 

According to a recent poll conducted by Reuters amongst the Japanese public, nearly 70 percent of respondents are against the Games taking place this summer and instead want them to either be cancelled or postponed. 

Earlier in May, a doctors union told the government that it was “impossible” to hold the Games, citing the pandemic. 

Moreover, numerous towns which were set to host the athletes across the Tokyo region have reportedly pulled out from the programme as it might lead to the spread of the virus. 

Also, a growing number of investors in Japanese stocks also believe that cancelling the Games is better for the market, intensifying the pressure on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.  

Safety measures to prevent COVID-19 spread 

No international fan will be allowed to attend Tokyo Olympics as Japan borders are shut to foreigners due to the pandemic. However, domestic spectators will be allowed, but if the Covid situation worsens then the competitions will go ahead with no audience. 

International athletes and support staff will have to be tested before departure and on arrival in Japan and the participants will be tested daily throughout the Games. 

Interestingly, athletes and staff won’t have to quarantine, but they will have to stay in bubbles and avoid mixing with locals. 

In the Olympic village, athletes and support staff will be subjected to strict control measures to ensure their safety. This will include limiting the time in the village, restrictions on socialising outside the bubble, their movement between official Games’ venues, and a COVID-19 screening system that will see athletes and support staff screened during the event. 

Meanwhile, IOC has asked national teams to fly in additional medical staff for the Tokyo Olympics so as not to burden Japan, which is already struggling to cope with the pandemic. However, the body is yet to iron out the details of the policy.

Tokyo Olympic can have its own variant of coronavirus 

The head of a Japanese doctors’ union said on Thursday that holding the Olympic Games with tens of thousands of people from around the world, could lead to the emergence of an “Olympic” coronavirus strain. 

Even without the international fans, people from more than 200 nations and territories are set to arrive in Japan, and the Games, due to begin in eight weeks, pose a danger, said Naoto Ueyama, head of the Japan Doctors Union. 

“All of the different mutant strains of the virus which exist in different places will be concentrated and gathering here in Tokyo. We cannot deny the possibility of even a new strain of the virus potentially emerging,” he told a news conference. 

“If such a situation were to arise, it could even mean a Tokyo Olympic strain of the virus being named in this way, which would be a huge tragedy and something which would be the target of criticism, even for 100 years.”  

READ | Bhavani Devi, India’s first fencer to qualify for Olympics, opens up on her dreams and challenges 

Besides Covid, intense heat can play a spoilsport 

According to a UK-based association, climate change has added the risk of intense heat and high humidity during the Tokyo Olympics which could threaten the health and performance of athletes. 

The British Association for Sustainable Sport (BASIS) in a report released on Wednesday, titled “Ring of Fire: How Heat Could Impact the 2021 Tokyo Olympics”, said athletes are increasingly being asked to compete in an environment that is becoming “too hostile” for the human body. 

The impact of climate change is likely to be felt in Japan, which has experienced record-breaking heat waves in recent years. The host city’s temperature has climbed by 2.86 degrees Celsius since 1900, over three times faster than the world’s average, the report noted. 

According to a Bloomberg report, the temperature in the Japanese capital is forecast to average between 26.3 and 27.4 degrees Celsius in August. The maximum could reach as high as 39.1 degrees Celsius on August 3. For perspective, it is 11.1 degrees more than the Tokyo Olympics in 1994 which took place in October, according to BASIS. 

However, with the Games scheduled to take place between July 23 and Aug. 8, some events including the marathon and road cycling have been shifted to cooler places near Sapporo and Mount Fuji. 

It is worth mentioning that the temperature has a significant impact on the performance of athletes. High temperature can cause various heat-related problems like heat cramps and strokes, while low temperatures may lead to hypothermia. 

During the 2019 World Athletics Championship in Doha, Qatar, only 40 of 68 runners finished the women’s marathon, despite the race being moved to midnight to avoid searing daytime heat. 

Japan’s economy hangs in balance

The contract between the IOC and host city Tokyo makes it clear that only the IOC can cancel the upcoming Olympics. 

The IOC is expected to make around 70% of its money from broadcast rights, and around 18% from sponsorship. If the Games don’t go ahead, it could severely damage the IOC’s finances and the future of the Olympic movement. Hence, the body is more than desperate to go ahead with the Games. 

However, if Tokyo was to break the contract and cancel against the will of the IOC, the risks and losses would fall on the Japanese side. 

Notably, Japan stands to lose 1.8 trillion yen ($17 billion) if the Olympics were cancelled, but that would pale in comparison to the economic hit from emergency curbs if the Summer Games turned into a super-spreader event, a top economist estimated. 

As per a report in Kyodo News, the Nomura Research Institute has warned of even a bigger economic loss if a fresh state of emergency is declared.  

“Even if the games are cancelled, the economic loss will be smaller than (the damage done by) a state of emergency,” Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at the Nomura Research Institute, said. 

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