SYDNEY – Ten weeks before the start of the Olympics, Tokyo remains in a state of emergency, 60% of Japanese do not want the Olympics to continue, and only around 3% of them have been vaccinated against COVID -19.
Still, the message from the International Olympic Committee, local organizers and the Japanese government has been consistent – rushing ahead of the opening ceremony on July 23.
Their stance may seem counterintuitive to those still grappling with the daily deaths and hardships caused by the pandemic, but there has been a noticeable lack of dissent from the sports community.
This is in contrast to last year, when the voices of athletes and sports officials were at the forefront of a wave of opinions that led to a 12-month delay for the Games.
As IOC President Thomas Bach made it clear that another postponement was not an option, annulment would be the only alternative to prosecution.
This, according to Olympic swimming gold medalist Rebecca Adlington, would be “devastating” for the athletes.
“Athletes are dedicating their lives to something that only happens every four years, it’s been five years now and if that is canceled, (they) will have to wait three more,” the Briton told Reuters.
“Thousands of athletes will miss the opportunity to represent their country and win medals. It’s been five years of hard work, pushing their bodies to the limit.
IOC data shows that around 80% of athletes appear in only one Olympic in their career – careers that in some sports will be completed and dusted off in the eight years between the Rio 2016 Games and the 2024 gathering in Paris.
The athletes apparently weren’t put off by the conditions under which they have to compete in Tokyo, where the threat of the Olympics turning into a ‘super-prevalent’ event means isolation, regular COVID-19 testing and possibly be no crowd.
Foreign fans have already been banned as a decision on domestic crowds is expected in June. There were no spectators when Sebastian Coe, the head of world athletics and former Olympic champion, attended a dry run for health precautions during a test event in Tokyo last weekend.
“I talk to athletes all the time,” he said.
“The vast majority of athletes… understand that this won’t be the kind of Games they’ve experienced before… but they still know they would rather be here than sit down and dance. It is important to them.
World sprint champion Noah Lyles, who hopes to compete in his first Games, said he was not too concerned about his own health.
“I got the vaccine pretty early,” the American told Reuters.
“Now that the vaccine is much more accessible to people around the world, it gives me more security than going to the Olympics, it will be safer and we won’t have too many problems.
“Of course, everyone takes these extra precautions to make sure we don’t have to deal with it.”
Japanese tennis players Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori last weekend expressed concerns about the Games, calling for a “discussion” on the potential impact of 10,000 downhill athletes on their country.
Tennis is, however, one of the few sports where an Olympic medal is not the most prestigious award in the game, and it is the less prominent athletes who have the most to lose from the cancellation of the Games.
British climber Shauna Coxsey, whose sport is set to debut in Tokyo, said her desire to compete in the Games had only been heightened by the postponement.
“The wait has made people more worried, but in a good way more people want to go and get involved,” she told Reuters.
“I think the cohesion of the Olympic Games and the fact that they abolish so many borders and are a beacon of hope in some ways, with the delay, it has heightened the feeling about what the Games mean.”
New Zealand rugby sevens coach Clark Laidlaw said that, if he understood the reservations, he believed hosting the Games could be a ray of light in dark times.
“I really think that if it’s safe, and Japan thinks it’s safe, then it’s a real opportunity for people to inspire other people who are in a really difficult situation,” a- he told Reuters.
US academic Jules Boykoff, in an opinion piece for the New York Times on Tuesday, called for the Games to be canceled.
“The situation is crude but clear: the Olympic organizers are not prepared to sacrifice their profits for public health,” he wrote.
This is a familiar criticism of the IOC, which receives billions of dollars in television rights and sponsorships for the Games, but a criticism totally rejected by Vice President John Coates.
“If we were doing that, we would have pushed them last year. We didn’t, ”the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president said last weekend.
“I don’t want these kids to miss out on the only opportunity they have in their life. We are doing it so that these children can make their dreams come true. “
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