When Japan finally realized its dream of hosting another summer Olympics, a big part of its bid campaign – other than greasing the wheels with $2 million dollars to a shady Singapore “consulting firm” serving as a conduit for alleged vote buying – was the assurance that the games would be safe from things like the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and multiple nuclear meltdowns.
After spending millions and millions of dollars in repeated failed attempts lure the summer games over the years, Japan was not going to let the idea of 16,000 dead make anyone think bad things happen here.
“Japan is safe,” Japan’s then prime minister Shinzo Abe told the International Olympic Committee, when Tokyo’s titanic Olympic effort was launched in 2013 and declared unsinkable.
Since then, it has been: “Don’t worry about stadium costs. Don’t worry about logo plagiarism. Don’t worry about the effect on athletes and spectators from heat and humidity when Tokyo becomes a sauna in July and August. We’ve got this.”
To every problem that has arisen, the response of the government and organizers has been:
- Deny there is a problem.
- Downplay it.
- Insist the Olympics are simply too important to be affected by it.
- Admit that “No one saw this coming. What’s done is done.”
- Say, “Let’s move forward, because the Olympics are really important.”
When distance runners dropped like flies at the 2019 World athletics championships in Doha, the IOC unilaterally moved the Tokyo Olympic marathon to the northern city of Sapporo, outraging Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike. Of course, the IOC was complicit in handing Tokyo a summer Olympics IN THE SUMMER. Before the age of professionalism and big money TV deals, the first Tokyo Olympics were held in October.
So, when the coronavirus arrived, the style of the response was predictable. But unlike the customary costs of waste and fraud, denying and downplaying a deadly virus has given Tokyo an Olympic legacy future host cities will be hard pressed to meet.
The IOC at first joined the Tokyo Organizers in assuming the pandemic would be over in time to open the Olympics on July 24, 2020 and that there was no way the games could be postponed. The postponement which Abe announced but Japan never would have considered on its own, allowed to say everything will be safe by July 23, 2021.
But that time between Feb. 1 and March 24, a time when steps could have been taken to eradicate the virus in Japan the way it has been in Taiwan and New Zealand was wasted because high infection totals from testing and contact tracing would have been a bad look ahead of the Olympics. Once the postponement was in place, Japan issued a band-aid version of a state of emergency, where people were asked not to do things to increase infections but testing was still something the government was not on board with – because the Olympics in 2021 will be safe, right?
Last autumn, surveys indicated that the Olympic dream of sponsors, politicians and businesses poised to profit from them was not shared by 80 percent of the Japanese public, which had seen and heard enough. In accordance, IOC and the Japanese government began to switch from proclaiming Tokyo the first “post-pandemic Olympics” to the first “mid-pandemic Olympics.”
Four months ago, things appeared to be back on track as organizers and epidemiologists developed concrete plans in the Olympic Playbooks, but that optimism is now gone. Day by day, Japan watches as 2020’s policy of prioritizing the Olympics over testing and tracing is now bearing fruit in the form of rising infection rates from our fourth wave.
The international swimming federation had decided, according to the BBC, which saw the documents, to cancel its final Olympic diving qualifier in Tokyo over Japan’s inadequate coronavirus countermeasures and being asked to shoulder the burden of increased quarantines.
The event, however, is going forward, this week in Tokyo, without Australia, whose diving body declared them unsafe. Cancelling the Olympic qualifier would have been a bad look for Tokyo organizers, so I’m guessing the additional costs for coronavirus security that won’t be paid by the international swimming federation will be coming out of my taxes.
Meanwhile, the torch relay goes on, despite being canceled in some places, despite infections among relay organizing staff. It is like the Tokyo Olympics. It serves no purpose, except to build public support for the unpopular games, and is often being run away from the people it was supposed to entertain, while Olympic organizers reassure us daily that, “Yes, the Olympics will go on, and no, no one is considering cancellation.”
When the IOC began studying for its mid-pandemic event, it was encouraged by sports taking place in bubbles and by crowds at Japanese pro baseball, soccer and sumo. But that is no longer looking like the bright light it once was.
This week, the NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters officially became an infection cluster, and so far, four of their first-team games and three of the club’s minor league games have been postponed.
But don’t worry, canceling the Olympics is not an option. Sure, if the U.S. athletics federation and swimming federation decide not to come, then there will be no Tokyo Olympics.
Until that happens, however, Japan’s dogged persistence to push forward regardless of the cost and opposition so far has taught us that no deaths will be too many for Japan to pull the plug on its own accord.
I swear, if these people were in charge of the Titanic in 1912, when two-thirds of the people aboard died two-thirds of the way to New York, the Tokyo Olympic organizers would have called it between 33 percent and 67 percent successful.