The Tokyo Olympics Games, conducted amid the coronavirus pandemic, have ended.
In addition to the world’s first Olympic postponement, the Tokyo Games largely barred spectators into competition venues and implemented a “bubble system” isolating athletes from Japan’s general population. It was an unusual Olympics without the usual festive feeling.
In generally holding events without spectators, the flow of people was to some extent curbed. But many flocked to events including the marathons on public roads to get a taste of the Olympic Games.
Athletes in the Olympic Village were tightly restricted in what they could do, and given daily polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. Some voiced objections to the stress they were subjected to daily, and there were even cases of athletes leaving the village without permission and being stripped of their Games accreditation.
The inconvenient environment athletes were placed in must have been a far cry from the Japanese-style “omotenashi” hospitality promised when Tokyo’s 2020 Summer Olympics bid was chosen. But to keep coronavirus infections down, their treatment was unavoidable.
The question of if it was appropriate to hold the Olympics even after a one-year postponement will be contended long after the Games. The organizers and the Japanese government must consider this question, including the decision to hold the Games in Tokyo’s extreme summer heat.
During the Games, there were striking scenes of athletes taking action to seek a society that accepts diverse values.
A number of women’s soccer teams took a knee to protest racism before their matches began. The British team called on delegations to do the same, which the Japanese team and others followed. Although the Olympic Charter states that “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas,” rules were relaxed for the Tokyo Games and allowed athletes to express views prior to their events.
Even at a medal ceremony — where demonstrations are not officially permitted — a Black athlete from the United States who won silver in the women’s shot-put crossed her wrists in an “X” above her head. She said it was “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”
Protest against gender discrimination was expressed at the Games as well. The German gymnastics team performed not in leotards, which expose a lot of skin, but in unitards that covered their bodies to their ankles.
Meanwhile, a woman who has publicly come out as transgender competed in weightlifting for New Zealand. Some critics called into question fairness at the women’s event, but the athlete’s self-identified gender was respected.
Some athletes resisted unjustified pressure from their countries. A female Belarusian sprinter complained on social media about being coerced by her coaches into running in an event she was not planning to participate in. As a result, she was ordered to return to Belarus. But she objected, seeking asylum in neighboring Poland. Under the Belarusian dictatorship, the president expressed a heavy-handed attitude toward the country’s Olympic team, which was not doing well at the Tokyo Games.
Under its Fundamental Principles of Olympism, the Olympic Charter says, “The practice of sport is a human right.” It also stipulates: “Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit.”
Such athletes showed their “Olympic spirit” by example. It was a display of pure desire to freely practice sport without being bound by anything.
At the same time, those hosting the Olympics exposed great strains. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) pushed forward with the event despite the Japanese public’s concerns over holding an Olympics amid the coronavirus crisis.
The IOC’s finances are dependent on massive sums paid by U.S. broadcasters for broadcasting rights, and worldwide sponsors’ support. That the IOC prioritized business and showed disregard for athletes’ health and the Japanese public’s safety is undeniable.
The twisted reality that the IOC has authority over the Olympics came into sharp relief. Contracts the IOC signs with host cities are dubbed “unequal treaties,” and stipulate that the right to decide to cancel an Olympic Games lies with the IOC, and that it bears no responsibility for compensation.
But it wasn’t just the IOC; the Japanese government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government stuck with the conclusion that the Olympics would be held no matter what. They repeated the phrase, “safe and secure,” but failed to explain the significance of holding the Games, and the way the Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration appeared to try to use the Olympics as a tool to raise its approval ratings drew strong public resentment.
Discrimination by Tokyo Olympics staff came one after another. Among them was Yoshiro Mori — who stepped down as Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics organizing committee chief for misogynistic remarks he made — and the opening ceremony’s creative director, who was sacked after past problematic language and actions emerged. Many must have realized the Tokyo Games’ vision of “unity in diversity” was just a sham.
With the darkness of the Olympics exposed, the fundamental question of what it meant to hold the Games has been raised.
Unless we change our outdated attitudes, the Olympics will not be able to enter a new era. To do so, we must listen to the voices of the athletes who tried to make the Olympic Charter’s philosophy a reality.