Let Games bring world hope, pride, inspiration in pandemic / Measures against virus key to safe event

Tokyo opens its first Olympics in about half a century when the capital is under a state of emergency declared amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully, the importance and value of making an effort in the face of adversity will be conveyed to the world.

It is the first time an Olympics has been held in Japan since the Nagano Winter Games 23 years ago. More than 10,000 athletes from about 200 countries and regions will gather and compete in a record 33 sports for 17 days until Aug. 8.

Hit by many difficulties

About two weeks before the opening, the government decided to hold the Olympics without spectators at venues for most of the sports. The opening and closing ceremonies will also be held without applause and cheers from spectators.

The central government, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games are responsible for making the Games a success by taking thorough measures against the coronavirus and ensuring the smooth operation of the Games.

It was decided in September 2013 that Tokyo would host the 2020 Summer Games. But the Games were postponed for the first time in Olympic history because of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has still not been contained, and even now there are lingering calls for the Games to be canceled.

The bid to host the Games in Tokyo was promoted under the slogan of the “Recovery and Reconstruction Games” to showcase recovery from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. However, the recovery is still halfway down the road. As the acceptance of foreign spectators in the Games was abandoned, it has become difficult to convey the situation in the disaster-hit areas to the world.

Japan, in the midst of a pandemic, is far from achieving the goal of having “the Games serve as proof of overcoming the coronavirus,” which was proposed after the postponement.

At a ceremony to rally the Japanese Olympic delegation, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, “All the more because the world is currently facing great difficulties, I hope the Tokyo Olympics will become a Games that conveys to the world the fact that we can overcome difficulties together.”

The opening day has arrived after a series of problems with the management of the Games. Through the Olympics, it is hoped that the importance of never giving up even in the face of adversity and of steadily training will be shown to people around the world.

By not allowing spectators into many of the competition venues, the risk of infection in and around venues has been reduced. However, tens of thousands of athletes and officials, among others, have come to Japan. Thorough countermeasures are essential, but flaws have already been revealed.

Fix flaws

People involved in the Games are undergoing daily coronavirus tests amid strict restrictions on their behavior, and they are not allowed to have any contact with the outside world. However, some people were spotted mingling with ordinary passengers at airports when they entered the country. Also some foreign members of the press have been seen sneaking out of their hotels to visit tourist spots.

Dozens of athletes and officials at the athletes village have tested positive for the coronavirus. The government and the organizing committee must keep in mind that the key to success is to avoid spreading the coronavirus domestically and internationally after the Games. They must facilitate efforts to review the antivirus measures.

It is also necessary to encourage athletes, officials and others to act responsibly.

Initially, out of the nine prefectures with competition venues, only Tokyo and three other prefectures in the metropolitan area were planning to ban spectators. However, Hokkaido and Fukushima Prefecture later changed their policy not to allow spectators into venues.

Miyagi Prefecture, on the other hand, is allowing up to 10,000 spectators, as it had previously planned. However, the mayor of Sendai and local medical associations, among others, have been calling for spectators to be banned for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

The infection situation is different in the Tokyo metropolitan area and regional cities. Instead of opting to ban spectators without properly assessing the risks involved, first of all, it is vital to focus on thorough measures, such as requiring spectators to travel to venues directly and go straight home after competitions.

The 1964 Tokyo Games became a symbol of Japan’s postwar reconstruction. The hosting of the event led to the construction of the Tokaido Shinkansen line and the Metropolitan Expressway. Japan won a total of 16 gold medals, and the performance of the athletes in the Japanese national teams, including the women’s volleyball team, called the “Oriental Witches,” left a lasting impression on people’s minds.

This time, new sports such as sport climbing and skateboarding have been added, and baseball and softball, which had been removed, have returned. Japanese athletes will participate in all sports.

Memorize athletes’ feats

Yasuhiro Yamashita, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, said to the Japanese athletes, “I’d like you to shine as brightly as you can while feeling gratitude and pride.”

All the athletes must have spent the past year in an environment in which it was difficult to concentrate on their sports. Witnessing athletes who have worked hard under various constraints make a splendid showing will surely become deeply etched in people’s memories, just as it was the last time in 1964.

Many exchange events planned to bring athletes and the public together in various parts of the country have been canceled. It is deeply regrettable that the Olympics has completely changed from what people had envisioned.

Still, sports have the power to move people’s hearts. In the face of hardships, many people may be encouraged by the way athletes perform at their best. Hopefully, the Games this time, as well, will bring hope to people around the world suffering from the coronavirus pandemic.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 23, 2021.