The Tokyo Olympics, already delayed by the pandemic, will likely turn out to be no fun for both spectators and the athletes. And not for the Japanese public.
The athletes, fans and public are caught between concerns about the coronavirus at a time when few are vaccinated on one side and politicians who hope to save face by holding the games and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with billions of dollars on the line on the other.
“We have been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop now. We are damned if we do, and damned if we do not,” Kaori Yamaguchi, a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee and a bronze medalist in judo in 1988, wrote in a recent editorial published by the Kyodo news agency. “The IOC also seems to think that public opinion in Japan is not important.”
Support for going ahead seems to be increasing, but there’s persistent opposition with small street protests planned on Wednesday, one month before the July 23 opening. Much of that concern stems from qualms about the health risks. While the number of new cases has been receding in Tokyo, only about 7 percent of Japanese are fully vaccinated — and even though the government is now supercharging its vaccine drive after a slow start, the vast majority of the population still won’t be immunized when the games start.
The pressure to hold the games is largely financial for the Switzerland-based IOC, a nonprofit but highly commercial body that earns 91 percent of its income from broadcast rights and sponsorship. Estimates suggest a cancelation could cost it $3 billion to $4 billion in broadcast rights income.