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Editorial: Not enough realistic debate less than 6 months out from Tokyo Games

  • January 25, 2021
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

We are less than six months away from the Tokyo Games set to begin on July 23. But the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, and people both in Japan and overseas are beginning to voice their concerns about the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.


Skepticism about going ahead with the games this summer as scheduled has been popping up among Olympic gold medalists and those tied to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Instances of foreign media reporting on the possibility of a cancellation are also increasing.


According to a public opinion poll carried out by Japan’s Kyodo News agency in early January, some 80% of respondents called for a cancellation or another postponement of the Tokyo Games. There have been a spate of cancellations of Japan national teams’ tours and training camps.


However, IOC President Thomas Bach has expressed his optimism for the games, saying that the Tokyo Games could be “the light at the end of the tunnel,” while Tokyo Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games President Yoshiro Mori has expressed a similar sentiment, saying, “There will always be morning even after a long night.”


Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has repeated his commitment to holding the Tokyo Games, saying that it will serve as “proof that humanity has defeated the coronavirus,” and told the Diet that preparations were underway for the games without the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine as a prerequisite. But as an explanation by the government, which holds responsibility for the Tokyo Games’ anti-coronavirus measures, it is not specific or convincing enough.

More than anything, it is necessary to quickly proceed with a debate with eyes firmly on reality.


It is clear what calls for priority deliberation: whether there should be restrictions on spectators, including those coming from overseas, and infection prevention measures for athletes and others involved in the games.


Last year, the Japanese government put forth a proposal to allow spectators from abroad, who would be exempt from a 14-day quarantine to use public transportation.


But if people from all over the world were to gather in Tokyo, there is a danger that the spread of the novel coronavirus will expand. It can be predicted that new variant strains of the novel coronavirus would enter Japan’s borders.


Since last year, many professional sports in Europe and the United States have been played without spectators. There are those who say that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics would be best served by conducting the competitions without any spectators, or by limiting the spectators to those who live in Japan.


As for infection prevention measures, there is the option of keeping athletes in bubble-like environments, by shuttling them back and forth between their isolated accommodations and where their events are taking place.


In considering what kind of measures are feasible, it is crucial to give great attention to the increasingly escalating status of novel coronavirus infections.


The Olympic torch relay is set to begin on March 25. The current state in which a sense of crisis over proceeding with the Tokyo Games and the fact that we cannot see specific moves being made by those in charge of the event must quickly be addressed.

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