TOKYO — Tokyo pitched itself as “a safe pair of hands” when it was awarded the Olympics 7 1/2 years ago. “The certainty was a crucial factor,” Craig Reedie, an IOC vice president at the time, said after the 2013 vote in Buenos Aires. Now, nothing is certain as Tokyo‘s postponed Olympics hit the 100-days-to-go mark on Wednesday. Despite surging cases of COVID-19, myriad scandals, and overwhelming public opposition in Japan to holding the Games, organizers and the IOC are pushing on.
Tokyo’s 1964 Olympics celebrated Japan‘s rapid recovery from defeat in World War II. These Olympics will be marked by footnotes and asterisks. The athletes will aim high, of course, but the goals elsewhere will be modest: get through it, avoid becoming a super-spreader event, and stoke some national pride knowing few other countries could have pulled this off.
“The government is very conscious of how ‘the world’ views Japan,” Dr. Gill Steel, who teaches political science at Doshisha University in Kyoto, wrote in an email. “Canceling the Olympics would have been seen, at some level, as a public failure on the international stage.”
The price will be steep when the Olympics open on July 23.
The official cost is $15.4 billion. Olympic spending is tough to track, but several government audits suggest it might be twice that much, and all but $6.7 billion in public money.
The Switzerland-based IOC generates 91% of its income from selling broadcast rights and sponsorship. This amounts to at least $5 billion in a four-year cycle, but the postponement stalled the revenue flow from networks like American-based NBC.
What does Tokyo get out of the 17-day sports circus?
Fans abroad are banned, tourism is out, and there’ll be no room for neighborhood parties. Athletes are being told to arrive late, leave early and maneuver around a moving maze of rules.
There are also reputational costs for Japan and the International Olympic Committee: a bribery scandal, botched planning, and repeated misogyny in the Tokyo Olympic leadership.
The IOC is betting Tokyo will be a distraction — “the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel”— as the closing ceremony comes just six months before the opening of the boycott-threatened Beijing Winter Olympics. Various polls suggest up to 80% of Japanese want the Olympics canceled or postponed. And many scientists are opposed. “It is best to not hold the Olympics given the considerable risks,” Dr. Norio Sugaya, an infectious diseases expert at Keiyu Hospital in Yokohama, told The Associated Press.
Japan‘s vaccine rollout has been almost nonexistent, few will get shots before the Olympics open, and Tokyo has raised its “alert level” with another wave predicted about the time of the opening ceremony. About 9,500 deaths in Japan have been attributed to COVID-19, good by global measures but poor by standards in Asia.
And what’s the impact of 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from more than 200 countries and territories entering Japan, joined by tens of thousands of officials, judges, media, and broadcasters?