The Irish Times view on the Tokyo Olympics: the troubled games

Concern of Japanese public is they are jeopardising health by opening their doors

The failure of both Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga and the International Olympic Committee to bring a sceptical public with them in their determination to stage the games come what may will be damaging to both. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

The failure of both Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga and the International Olympic Committee to bring a sceptical public with them in their determination to stage the games come what may will be damaging to both. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

 

The tens of thousands of athletes, coaches, media personnel and support staff who will arrive in Japan over the next fortnight for the Tokyo Olympics will face a scenario that no one could have envisaged for sport’s greatest celebration.

Instead of the huge anticipation that the Olympics normally generate in the weeks leading up to the opening ceremony, the countdown to the Tokyo games has been completely overshadowed by Covid-19 and the implications of staging a global spectacular in a country that has so far avoided a high death toll from the virus. That low fatality count has been built on lockdowns and strict controls on arrivals into the country rather than a successful rollout of vaccines; Japan’s vaccination rate is among the lowest of developed countries.

The real concern of the Japanese public that they are jeopardising their health by opening their doors to up to 90,000 visitors from every country in the world has finally forced the government to concede that even allowing limited crowds at any Olympic events is far too risky.

The failure of both prime minister Yoshihide Suga and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to bring a sceptical public with them in their determination to stage the games come what may, will be damaging to both. Facing an election in the autumn, the ruling Liberal Democrat party had been banking on a lift in the polls from a successful staging of the games while the IOC had been hoping that the world would applaud its decision to proceed in the face of a pandemic. Both appear to have made serious misjudgments.

From the outset, the Tokyo games have been dogged by the usual budget overruns, with an estimated cost to Japan of €20 billion, none of which can be recouped by ticket sales or overseas visitors. The indifference of the IOC to Japanese concerns is not surprising for a body whose overriding concern appears to be profit rather than performance. Even the brilliance of the world’s best sportsmen and women may not be enough to rescue an already tarnished Tokyo Olympics.

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