Pushing agenda is foolhardy
The South China Morning Post on indefinitely postponing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games:
The Olympic Games is the world’s biggest celebration of sports, culture and unity. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga wants the postponed Tokyo edition rescheduled for July to be a victory lap in the struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic.
But in the midst of fresh waves of the disease in many countries, Japan among them, and with the effectiveness of nascent vaccination programmes uncertain, his insistence seems more about political fortunes. Pushing ahead in such circumstances is foolhardy.
The disappointment of athletes and a global television audience of billions is of little consequence to the damage caused by hosting such an event at a time when there should be examples set and strict social distancing to curb the virus.
About 15,000 athletes and tens of thousands of coaches, officials, journalists and sponsors from more than 200 countries and regions are usually involved in the summer Olympics and the Paralympic Games that follow. That is on top of hundreds of thousands of spectators.
Japan has not been as badly affected by Covid-19 as many other developed nations, but a recent record surge in infections has forced a state of emergency in Tokyo and other cities and the closure of borders to foreigners. Suga pledged in a speech at the opening of parliament that he would take tough action to tackle the outbreaks, but he is widely perceived as having so far responded poorly.
Unsurprisingly, recent opinion polls show that as many as 80 per cent of Japanese are either unsure that the Games should go ahead or want them called off. Rumours are swirling that they could be put back to 2032, after the next two Games, in Paris and Los Angeles.
In excess of US$12 billion has been spent on infrastructure and the delay so far has cost billions more. The International Olympic Committee also is adamant the Games should go ahead – the billions in commercial deals already signed are critical to its revenue. But politics is also at play, Suga having made their taking place a priority since last September when he replaced Shinzo Abe, the nationalist prime minister who was the driving force behind Tokyo holding the Olympics for the first time since 1964.
There is added pressure with Suga’s interim term ending in October and the likelihood of him facing voters, and Beijing’s staging of the winter Games next February.
The measures announced to ensure the Games take place safely are unconvincing. It would be risky to let in so many foreigners, even if they are required to get jabs. There are still too many unknowns about new coronavirus strains and the effectiveness of vaccines.
As the Australian Open tennis tournament has shown, even far smaller events are challenged by the effort to keep out infections. For all that is at stake, further postponement of the Tokyo Games would seem to be the only sensible option.