TOKYO – Will the postponed Tokyo Olympics open despite mounting opposition and pandemic?
Richard Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, was adamant in an interview with a British newspaper.
“Except Armageddon which we can’t see or anticipate, these things are ready,” Pound told The Evening Standard.
Tokyo is under a COVID-19 state of emergency, but IOC Vice President John Coates has said the games will open on July 23 – a state of emergency, or no state of emergency.
As an exclamation point, the Australian softball team – the first large group of foreign athletes to establish an Olympic base in Japan – arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday.
The Olympic Games are therefore advancing sharply. But why?
Start with billions of dollars at stake, a contract that massively favors the IOC, and a decision by the Japanese government to stay the course, which could help Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga keep his job.
These factors have taken precedence over scathing criticism from medical organizations who fear the Olympics will spread variants of COVID-19, and a call for the cancellation of Asahi Shimbun, a sponsor of the games and the second best-selling newspaper in the country. The US State Department has issued a Level 4 “Do not travel” warning for Japan along with Tokyo and other areas under a state of emergency that expires on June 20.
And there is to save face. Japan has officially spent $ 15.4 billion on the Olympics, but several government audits suggest it is much more. Everything but $ 6.7 billion is public money. Its geopolitical rival, China, will hold the 2022 Winter Olympics just six months after the end of Tokyo, and could claim center stage if Tokyo fails.
A Swiss-based non-profit organization, the IOC exercises rock-solid control under the terms of the Host city contract, and it’s unlikely to cancel itself as it would lose billions of dollars in broadcast rights and sponsorship revenue.
Despite promoting itself as a sports league of nations, the IOC is a multi-billion dollar sports business that derives nearly 75% of its revenue from the sale of broadcast rights. Another 18% comes from the top 15 sponsors.
Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College in Massachusetts who has written extensively on the Olympics, estimates that the IOC could lose around $ 3.5 billion to $ 4 billion in broadcast revenue if the Tokyo Games are canceled. He suggested that a small portion of that amount, between $ 400 million and $ 800 million, could be offset through cancellation insurance.
US broadcaster NBCUniversal is the IOC’s largest source of revenue.
“The IOC also feels determined by the momentum of history to do this,” Zimbalist said in an interview with The Associated Press. “All their DNA says, ‘do it, do it, do it.’ The Japanese government really does not have the right to cancel the games. They can go to the IOC and advocate with them, and maybe they do. “
Of course, the Japanese government could stop the Olympics. It would be a PR disaster for the IOC to enter a legal battle with Tokyo, so any such deal would be done in private.
The high image of the IOC belies a myriad of corruption scandals over the past decades. the The president of the Japanese Olympic Committee was forced to resign two years ago – he was also an IOC member – in a scandal related to the corruption of IOC members. A similar scandal surrounded Rio de Janeiro’s bid for the 2016 Olympics.
“The Olympics are a very, very strong brand. It is a unique brand. They are a monopoly, ”Zimbalist said. “They are not regulated by any government. All of these things may have created a feeling of invulnerability.
The medical community has offered persistent but ineffective opposition. The Tokyo Physicians Association, which has 6,000 members, has called on Prime Minister Suga to cancel. The same is true of the Japan Doctors Union, whose president has warned that the Olympics could spread variants of the coronavirus. Nurses and other medical groups have also retreated.
Last week in a comment, the New England Journal of Medicine said the IOC’s decision to host the Olympics was “not based on the best scientific evidence”. And the Le British medical journal in an editorial in April called on organizers to “reconsider” the hosting of the games.
An online petition demanding the cancellation gathered around 400,000 signatures in a matter of weeks, but several street protests have mostly fizzled out. Depending on the wording of the question, 50 to 80% oppose the opening of the games.
Suga advances despite the dissension.
“The basic situation is that the machine has been set in motion to make this happen and politically for everyone we have passed the point of no return,” wrote Dr Aki Tonami, who teaches international relations at the ‘University of Tsukuba, in an email. to AP.
“The Japanese system is just not designed to do a radical U-turn at such a late stage. “
She said negative public opinion was partly the fault of Suga, who failed to support the Olympics as effectively as former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“Politicians may be aware of the risk they are taking, but they hope that once the Games begin, the Japanese public will persevere ‘for the good of Japan’ and forget how we got here,” Tonami said. .
The IOC still refers to the World Health Organization as a shield for its coronavirus guidelines. The IOC has released two editions of so-called Playbooks – the latest edition came out this month – outlining the protocols for athletes and everyone else during the Olympics.
Recent test events held under the protocols have encountered few problems, but athletes will have to agree to strict rules.
“I felt beyond safety,” said US sprinter Justin Gatlin during a test event last month in Tokyo. “I know a lot of athletes won’t be happy with this, but the measures are in place to keep everyone safe.”
Japan has had far fewer cases of COVID-19 than the United States, Brazil or India. Cases have increased in recent months but have started to decline in recent weeks, although concerns persist about the variants.
Athletes and others must pass two COVID-19 tests before leaving their homes, one when they arrive in Japan, and then undergo repeat tests. Approximately 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, along with additional staff, will live in a bubble in the Olympic Village, training venues and venues.
Tens of thousands more will have to enter Japan, which was largely cordoned off during the pandemic: official judges, media, broadcasters and the so-called Olympic family. Local organizers say that number is now 50% of the original 180,000. Fans from overseas have already been banned and a decision on local fans is expected this month.
The IOC further specifies that 80% of the inhabitants of the Olympic Village will be vaccinated. This compares to 2-3% of the Japanese population who are fully vaccinated, and most Japanese will not be when the games open.
Japan punched 200 of its Olympians on Tuesday, an event that went behind closed doors without much fanfare.
Despite assurances that the Olympics will be “safe and secure,” athletes are required to sign a waiver and assume specific COVID-19 risks.
Waivers have been used in previous Olympics, but this one is updated with COVID language.
AP obtained a copy of the waiver, which reads in part:
“I agree that I participate in the Games at my own risk and under my own responsibility, including any impact on my participation and / or my performance at the Games, serious bodily injury or even death caused by potential exposure to health risks such as the transmission of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases or extreme heat conditions while participating in the Games… ”
Bob Costas, who covered the Olympics for NBC, suggested in a recent American television interview that the games should be postponed until next year.
This has been ruled out.
The IOC says the Olympics must be held this year or not at all. The delay has already cost $ 2.8 billion, and the main obstacle to another postponement is the Olympic Village, where thousands of apartments have already been sold with owners waiting to move in. Dozens of sites are also expected to be booked, and a 2022 world blocked sports calendar is set to be altered again.
David Wallechinsky, one of the world’s best-known Olympic historians and author of The Complete Book of the Olympics, summed up the situation in an email to The Associated Press.
“What a waste,” he wrote.