Will the postponed Olympic Games open in Tokyo despite growing opposition and the pandemic?
The answer is almost certainly yes.
Senior member of the International Olympic Committee Richard Pound was emphatic in an interview with a British newspaper.
“With the exception of Armageddon, which we can’t see or predict, these things are on the way,” Pound told the Evening Standard.
Tokyo is under a COVID-19 state of emergency, but IOC Vice President John Coates said the games will open on July 23 – a state of emergency or no state of emergency.
As a surprise, the Australian softball team – the first large group of foreign athletes to set up an Olympic base in Japan – arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday.
So the Olympics are moving forward. But why?
Start with billions of dollars, a deal that benefits the IOC for the most part, and a decision by the Japanese government to stay the course, which could help Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga keep his job.
These factors have replaced sharp criticism from medical authorities who fear the Olympics could spread variants of COVID-19, and a call for cancellation by Asahi Shimbun, the game’s sponsor and the country’s second-largest newspaper. The United States Department of State has issued a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” warning for Japan with Tokyo and other emergency areas, which expires on June 20.
And he has a lifesaver. Japan has officially spent $ 15.4 billion on the Olympics, but several government audits show that this is much more. All but $ 6.7 billion is public money. China’s geopolitical rival will host the 2022 Winter Olympics just six months after the end of Tokyo and could claim a central stage if Tokyo fails.
A non-profit organization based in Switzerland, the IOC has iron control under the terms of the so-called host city contract and is unlikely to give up on its own, as it will lose billions of broadcasting rights and sponsorship revenue.
Although it presents itself as a sports league of nations, the IOC is a multibillion-dollar sports business that receives almost 75% of its revenue from the sale of broadcasting rights. Another 18% come from 15 top sponsors.
Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College in Massachusetts who wrote in detail about the Olympics, estimates that the IOC could lose about $ 3.5 billion – $ 4 billion in broadcasting revenue if the Tokyo Games are canceled. He suggested that a small portion of that, between $ 400 million and $ 800 million, could be offset by cancellation insurance.
The American operator NBCUniversal is the IOC’s largest single source of income.
“The IOC is also committed to the inertia 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 has no right to cancel the games. They can go to the IOC and intercede with them, and maybe they do. “
Of course, the Japanese government can stop the Olympics. It would be a disaster for public relations for the IOC to enter into a legal battle with Tokyo, so any such deal will be considered in private.
The IOC’s high image has refuted countless corruption scandals over the past few decades. The president of the Japanese Olympic Committee was forced to resign two years ago – he was also a member of the IOC – in a scandal involving bribery of IOC members. A similar scandal has bypassed Rio de Janeiro’s bid to land at the 2016 Olympics.
“The Olympics are a very, very strong brand. They are a unique brand. They are a monopoly, “Zimbalist said. “They are not regulated by any government. All of this created a sense of invulnerability, perhaps. “
The medical community offers constant but ineffective opposition. The 6,000-member Tokyo Association of Practitioners has asked Prime Minister Suga to repeal it. The Japanese Medical Union, whose president warned that the Olympics could spread variants of the coronavirus, did the same. Nurses and other medical groups also withdrew.
Last week, the New England Journal of Medicine commented that the IOC’s decision to host the Olympics was “not informed by the best scientific evidence.” In an editorial in April, the British Medical Journal also asked organizers to “rethink” the Games.
An online petition calling for the repeal gathered about 400,000 signatures in a matter of weeks, but several street protests mostly fell apart. Depending on how the question is formulated, 50-80% oppose the opening of the games.
Suga continues forward despite the quarrel.
“The fundamental situation is that the machine is set in motion for this to happen, and politically for all of us we have passed the point of no return,” wrote Dr. Aki Tonami, who teaches international relations at Tsukuba University, in an email to the AP.
“The Japanese system just isn’t adapted to make a radical U-turn at such a late point.”
She said negative public opinion was partly due to 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 always refers to the World Health Organization as a shield for its coronavirus guide. The IOC has published two editions of the so-called Playbooks – the final edition coming out this month – writing protocols for athletes and everyone else during the Olympics.
Recent test events conducted according to the protocols have encountered few problems, but athletes will have to adopt strict rules.
“I felt more insecure,” said American sprinter Justin Gatlin at a test event last month in Tokyo. “I know a lot of athletes won’t be happy about that, but safety measures have been put in place for everyone.”
Japan has had far fewer cases of COVID-19 than the United States, Brazil or India. Cases have risen in recent months, but have begun to decline in recent weeks, although concerns remain about the options.
Competitors and others must pass two COVID-19 tests before leaving home, another on arrival in Japan, and then re-testing. About 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, plus additional staff, will live in a balloon in the Olympic Village, training grounds and venues.
Tens of thousands more will have to enter Japan, which was largely sealed during the pandemic: judges, the media, television operators and the so-called Olympic family. Local organizers say that number is now 50% of the original 180,000. Fans from abroad are already banned, and a decision for local fans is expected this month.
The IOC also says that 80% of the inhabitants of the Olympic Village will be vaccinated. This compares to 2-3% of the Japanese population, which is fully vaccinated, and most Japanese will not be when the games open.
Japan fired 200 of its Olympic athletes on Tuesday, a closed-door event without much fuss.
Despite assurances that the Olympics will be “safe and secure”, athletes must sign a waiver and take COVID-19-specific risks.
The waivers have been used in previous Olympics, but this one has been updated in COVID.
The AP received a copy of the refusal, which reads in part:
“I agree to participate in the Games at my own risk and responsibility, including any impact on my participation and / or performance in the Games, serious bodily injury or even death caused by a potential health hazard, such as the transmission of COVID- 19 and other infectious diseases or extreme heat conditions while attending the games … “
Bob Costas, who covered the NBC Olympics, suggested in a recent television interview in the United States that the Games should be postponed until next year.
This is excluded.
The IOC says the Olympics should happen this year or not at all. The delay has already cost $ 2.8 billion, and the main obstacle to another delay is the Olympic Games, where thousands of apartments have already been sold with owners waiting to move in. Dozens of seats also need to be reserved and the stalled global 2022 sports schedule will need to be readjusted.
David Valeczynski, one of the world’s most famous Olympic historians and author of The Complete Book of the Olympic Games, summarized the situation in an email to the Associated Press.
“What a mess,” he wrote.