Staging an Olympics during the worst pandemic in a century? What was Japan thinking?
It is pushed ahead with the Olympics against the advice of most of its medical experts and much of Japan doesn’t want the Games. Also, the nation’s vaccine rollout was late and is only now expanding, and many suspect the Games are being forced on the country because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) needs the billions in media revenue.
The IOC was estimated to face losses of $3 billion to $4 billion in television rights income if the Games were not held.
The official cost of the Olympics is $15.4 billion, but government audits suggest it’s much more. All but $6.7 billion is public money.
A geopolitical imperative may be another big motivator. Japanese archrival China hosts next year’s Winter Games, and many nationalists here maintain that an Olympic failure is not an option amid the struggle with Beijing for influence in Asia. Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister, may also be hoping that a face-saving Games, which he can then declare successful, will help him retain power in the fall elections.
Yet, some think that if any country could pull off these Games, it’s Japan.
A vibrant, open democracy with deep pockets, the host nation is known for its diligent execution of detail-laden, large-scale projects, its technological advances, its consensus-building, and its world-class infrastructure.
The worry isn’t that Tokyo’s organizers can’t get to the finish line without a major disaster.
The fear is that once the athletes and officials leave town, the nation may see an already bad coronavirus situation become even worse. Olympics visitors have already carried fast-spreading variants of the virus into a nation that is only approaching 25% fully vaccinated.
On the plus side, consider the airport arrivals for the thousands of Olympics participants. They showcased Japan’s ability to harness intensely organized workflow skills and bring them to bear on a specific task—in this case, protection against COVID-19 that might be brought in by a swarm of outsiders.
But there have also been conspicuous failures.
After the opening ceremony ended, for instance, hundreds of people in the stadium were crammed into a corral-like pen, forced to wait cheek by jowl for hours with only a flimsy barricade separating them from curious Japanese onlookers, while dozens of empty buses idled in a line stretching for blocks, barely moving.
Will virus cases and deaths spike? Will political fortunes be reversed?
Only time will tell… we will have to wait until after the Olympic flame is snuffed out and the visitors leave.