The opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics is less than two months away. With the new coronavirus still spreading, opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of the Japanese public wants the games to be delayed again or canceled.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in the Diet that authorities will do their utmost to ensure the games are “safe and secure,” but he has not given the specifics. Neither has the Tokyo Metropolitan Government or the Tokyo Organizing Committee done a stellar job of laying out detailed safety and security measures.
Convincing guidelines for exactly how to hold the games must be crafted immediately to dispel the concerns of athletes and the public. Authorities should promptly seek common ground with the International Olympic Committee on the specific procedures, make decisions, and provide clearer guidance.
One pending issue is determining the number of spectators to be permitted. Organizers have already decided not to allow fans from overseas, and they are now discussing how many to allow from within Japan. Filling facilities to half capacity is among the proposals being considered.
However, more dangerous and infectious variants of the coronavirus are becoming widespread, and the vaccination of residents across Japan will still be underway during the Olympics. Authorities must deploy doctors and nurses to competition venues and other relevant locations to avoid overloading limited medical resources.
Even if the number of spectators is limited, crowds will inevitably gather around the entrances and exits of Olympic facilities. As long as the risk of infection remains, organizers should consider holding the games without any spectators. Their decisions should be based on scientific evidence and the state of the medical system.
Athletes entering Japan are required to undergo daily testing, and there are strict restrictions on their behavior. Meanwhile, for officials of the various sports federations and members of overseas media organizations — estimated to be in the tens of thousands — daily tests are required for three days after entering the country, and they are not allowed to use public transportation for 14 days.
We have seen cases in which large-scale human movement has caused infections to spread. With that in mind, authorities should consider limiting the number of people entering Japan as well as imposing more stringent restrictions on movement.
Since the modern Olympics got their start 125 years ago, the games have become an expression of national prestige and a catalyst for urban development. They have also undergone a huge transformation because of massive sponsorships and fees for broadcasting rights.
However, if Japan is to maintain its will to host the Olympics, athletes and the public must be convinced. The Suga government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Organizing Committee need to make clear why and how they will create a new Olympic model to hold the games in the midst of a pandemic.