The joy and anticipation that greeted the International Olympic Committee’s decision in 2013 to award the 2020 Games to Tokyo seems like it belongs to another era, let alone a different decade.
With less than a week before Jill Biden and fewer than 1,000 VIPs see the Olympic cauldron ignite in an otherwise empty main stadium, the people of the host nation are gearing up for a Games few want – and that many fear that they will occur. leaving a public health legacy that overshadows athletic achievement.
As the world continues its battle against the coronavirus, it is perhaps appropriate that Japan’s bid was successful in part because of another human tragedy: the earthquake and tsunami that devastated its northeast coast in March 2011 and triggered a triple collapse. nuclear power plant in Fukushima.
If then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe succeeded in persuading IOC officials that Fukushima was “under control”, to the surprise of many still-displaced nuclear evacuees, Japan has been ill-prepared to dodge the Olympic potholes that have occurred since. then. appeared on the way to Tokyo 2020.
Aside from spiraling cost disputes that have become a rite of passage for Olympic preparations, the hosts have been affected by allegations of bribery during the bidding stage, a plagiarism controversy surrounding the original logo of the Games and the complete redesign of the event’s architectural centerpiece. , the $ 1.4 billion main stadium.
In recent months, preparations have exposed Japan’s struggle to live up to the values of gender equality and diversity embodied in the Olympic charter. In February, then-chairman of the organizing committee Yoshiro Mori, one of Japan’s most unpopular postwar prime ministers, reluctantly resigned over sexist comments he made about sports administrators.
The following month, Hiroshi Sasaki, creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies, was forced to leave the Olympic stage after he compared the popular celebrity Naomi Watanabe, who was to appear, to a pig.
On Saturday, there was more embarrassment after Japanese media reported that musician Keigo Oyamada, a senior member of the creative team for the opening ceremony, once admitted to bullying two disabled colleagues and dismissed the incidents with a laugh in interviews from magazines in the mid-1990s. Oyamada, better known by his stage name Cornelius, has apologized.
Yet nothing has matched the pandemic to foster doubt and division.
Having forced the first postponement of the Olympics in peacetime in March 2020, the virus has at times made it seem almost certain that Tokyo 2020 would go down in history as the quasi-Games.
But those who believed that even the IOC would not force the event on an increasingly skeptical and fearful host nation had not heeded the organization’s determination to secure its multi-million dollar broadcast rights bonanza.
As opinion polls showed that most Japanese wanted the Games to be delayed for another year or canceled altogether, the IOC giant simply moved on, with the help of local organizers and, in Yoshihide Suga, a first. Minister who practically admitted that he had no power to run. the breaks.
Now that there appears to be no alternative to the planned start of July 23, the Olympic movement is about to preside over an unprecedented Games.
With Tokyo now experiencing a fifth wave of infections, prompting deeply unpopular restrictions on eating out that will remain in effect long after the Olympics, all but a handful of events will take place behind closed doors.
Residents of the capital are now in the unenviable position of being asked by government officials to follow on television an event they helped finance, and during a state of emergency required by an Olympic Games that most of them do not want. .
The virus has weathered meticulous preparations throughout, including training ground disruptions and the Olympic torch relay, in normal times a highly symbolic precursor to the sport, but which this year entered its final stage in Tokyo in large measure. part hidden from the public eye.
In their determination to move forward with the Games, the organizers, the IOC and the government of Japan rely on the sport to provide a desperately needed distraction from the traumatic 18 months of the pandemic.
The mere sight of the best athletes in the world, separated from the people of the host city and even other competitors, competing for medals “will move the children and the younger generations,” Suga said last week. “As we face the major challenges posed by Covid-19 around the world, it is even more important that we send the strong message that we will unite and overcome this crisis through our efforts and the wisdom of humanity.”
But Suga, whose chief medical organizer warned that hosting the Games during the pandemic was “abnormal,” should know that sport will not be the sole focus of the Games, despite his repeated assurances that they will be “safe and secure. “.
After all, the beaming faces of the very athletes that the unpopular Suga has tasked with rescuing Tokyo 2020, and his own administration, from humiliation will hide behind masks when presented with medals that they must then place around their own necks.
Visiting journalists have been offended by “aggressive” warnings not to break strict rules about their movements, while news agencies are already recording Games-related infections, including the discovery on Saturday of the first case of Covid- 19 in the athletes’ village. in addition to 44 cases among other people linked to the Games.
“We are doing everything we can to prevent Covid outbreaks,” Seiko Hashimoto, a seven-time Olympian who succeeded the disgraced Mori as chair of the organizing committee, told reporters after being asked to address concerns that Tokyo 2020 it could become a super-spreader event.
Speaking shortly after Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios and compatriot Liz Cambage, who was supposed to compete in women’s basketball, retired citing anxiety to compete in the Olympic bubble, Hashimoto did slightly better than Suga to capture the mood.
“People who come to Japan are probably very worried, we understand that,” he said on Saturday.
And also, it’s fair to say, millions of Tokyoites.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism