Let’s cheer on athletes at Tokyo Olympics in spite of coronavirus hardships

The Tokyo Olympics has kicked off amid the adversity of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Athletes from around the world will showcase their strength and skill, competing over 17 days until Aug. 8.

It is the first time in 57 years that the Olympic cauldron has been lit in Tokyo. The opening ceremony, which was supposed to be filled with loud cheers, was closed to spectators to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Athletes entered the National Stadium wearing masks and efforts were made to social distance.

Olympic opening ceremonies have been regarded as an opportunity to overcome national and ethnic divisions and conflicts. This time, athletes and spectators from all over the world were not able to gather together, but the Olympic spirit must not be forgotten during the Games.

The staging director for the opening ceremony was dismissed on the eve of the Games for joking about the Holocaust in a past comedy skit.

An unprecedented situation was created following the resignations of a creative director for suggesting a staging plan that would disparage the physical appearance of a popular female entertainer, and the ceremony composer, whose bullying in the past came under scrutiny.

What did the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games think was the significance of the ceremony and how did it select these members? An investigation and explanation are needed. To avoid further disruption, the organizing committee should make efforts to ensure the smooth management of the Games.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many celebrities withdrew from the torch relay and many local governments barred torchbearers from running on public roads.

Even so, the torch has been carried in the relay through such workaround measures as a process called a “torch kiss,” in which torchbearers have transferred the flame from one person to another. It is significant that the symbol of the Olympics has traveled around the country in a difficult environment and has been passed from hand to hand by many people.

More than 10,000 athletes from about 200 countries and regions participate in the Games. A record high of more than 580 athletes are on the Japanese national team, largely exceeding the previous high of 355 at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) initially set a goal of winning a record 30 gold medals. However, the Games were postponed for one year due to the pandemic and athletes may have found it difficult to train satisfactorily during the postponement period.

As the circumstances surrounding the athletes have changed greatly, the JOC currently expressed its basic stance of not attaching importance to the number of gold medals won. It is hoped that athletes will show the results of their continued hard work to the fullest. As they perform at their best, we would like to cheer them on loudly through TV screens and other media.

There are many sports in which Japanese athletes are expected to make great strides, especially, the revived Olympic sports of baseball and softball, events in which Japan has won medals at past Games. To see swimmer Rikako Ikee, who has made a comeback after overcoming leukemia, compete with all her strength will also be one of the high points of the Games.

Athletes performing at their best will surely bring color to the world.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 24, 2021.