We urge the central government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) to continue to make preparations for the Tokyo Games this summer. Holding the Games is an important step toward bringing the COVID-19 situation under control and moving the country’s economy and society forward.
Unfortunately, there are no signs that COVID-19 will be brought under control anytime soon. The current state of emergency will most likely extend well into June. More and more people are calling for the Games to be canceled or delayed. Before we talk about whether Japan should host the Games, however, we should consider whether the central and Tokyo governments or the TOCOG have made a serious effort to explain to the people why Japan is hosting the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Athletes should speak up
The government and the TOCOG have frequently said it is possible to “hold the Olympic and Paralympic Games securely and safely.” But that is merely the precondition [for holding the Games], and it doesn’t tell the Japanese people what they need to know. Without an explanation as to why the country should host the Games, the Japanese people will not rally behind them even if they are told repeatedly that the event can be held “securely and safely.” Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide needs to clearly state why Japan is hosting the Games.
Athletes also should tell the nation why they will participate in the Games. Each athlete should talk about their hopes and fears about the Games in their own words. The athletes continue to train for the Games amid the uncertainty of whether the sporting event will be held. Their uneasiness is shared by the Japanese people overall. That is why the athletes, who represent Japan in the Games, have a responsibility to talk to the nation about the legacy and contribution the Games can give society.
Sometimes speaking out invites a disproportionate backlash. Nevertheless, we hope the athletes will try to engage in the conversation, because it would be the equivalent of a loss by default to accept whatever decision is made by others without speaking out for fear of backlash.
Olympic track-and-field silver medalist Suetsugu Shingo wrote in a Sankei column: “I hope the Olympic athletes will express their true feelings so that the athletes and society can join hands to ensure the survival of sports in Japan.” He almost seems to indicate that, without that, sports will die out in Japan. His words should be taken as an urgent plea.
Spectators and supporters must renew their understanding of sports, as well.
Such sporting events as the Japan-South Korea matches at the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the 2019 Rugby World Cup captured the nation with their many thrilling plays still vivid in our memories. The same is true of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. It is the power of sports to teach us the joy of embracing hope and striving wholeheartedly toward a goal.
At this point, the athletes are not being rightly appreciated because the recent criticism of the Tokyo Games is spilling over to impact them as well. This is a shameful situation for Japan as the host nation.
Of course, it is understandable that the Japanese public fears the further spread of COVID-19 from hosting the event, which will bring so many foreign athletes and officials to Tokyo. It is the responsibility of the government and the TOCOG to alleviate the public’s concerns.
Invest all knowledge and expertise
Those advocating for holding the Games should emphasize that efforts to prevent the spread of COVID will also help advance Japanese society in general.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said that participating athletes, both foreign and domestic, as well as Games officials must abide by the strict anti-virus protocol. Furthermore, the IOC estimates over 80% of those who stay in the Olympic Village will have been inoculated [before arriving in Japan].
Major U.S. pharma Pfizer will provide Japan with extra vaccines to inoculate 20,000 people involved in the Games. Minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympics Marukawa Tamayo plans to prioritize those who will have close contact with foreign visitors. They will include some of the volunteers, referees, and interpreters.
This is a disappointingly passive approach. Now that the Moderna vaccine has been approved, Japan has plenty of vaccines for its people. In this light, vaccines should be administered to all 80,000 Olympic volunteers, not just 20,000.
Even if the virus were to spread rapidly and the Games had to be canceled, it would not be for naught because the most urgent goal, Olympics or not, is inoculating as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.
Since last year, the sports community in Japan and abroad has gained experience and expertise in holding large-scale sporting events with spectators. No serious clusters have resulted from those past events. It should be possible, therefore, to hold the Tokyo Games this summer by reducing the COVID risk to a minimum.
The TOCOG estimates that 78,000 foreigners will visit Japan for the Games, substantially fewer than the initial estimate of 180,000. Perhaps it is possible to reduce the number even further to ensure the safety of the Games. We urge those in charge to work to do this even more.