The television news warns that perhaps before the end of the Games the organization can bring the world good news: the progressive reduction of covid cases and the consequent reopening of some events to the public. But while this happens and Tokyo lives from alert to alert (for a typhoon that was not such), it is certain that this Olympic event will go down in history for its empty stands and for the zero enjoyment of the local population. In this sense, one of the most iconic images of these early days in Japan is probably that of the empty Super Saitama Arena. It is the sleeping mole, a spectacular home for world basketball that lies in the lethargy of the pandemic.
The cocktail of stars offered by the tournament (with Doncic imperial in its premiere, Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Facu Campazzo or Kevin Durant) would have led to a safe house in most matches which are played at the same venue as the last World Cup in Japan. But the stubborn reality is today another: cement orphaned by spectators and the facade of the pavilion lit, although only for a few to see.
The Arena impresses. Is a multifunctional construction that is equal to an Olympic tournament as a U2 or Green Day macro concert. Here the same was filled by the Backstreet Boys as the protagonists of the Japanese basketball ‘All Stars’. But the fact is that now there is no one, or almost.
Only a few dozen journalists occupy the press stands, for which prior reservation has been required. There are some workers finalizing details behind the scenes, others who take saliva samples (a classic in these Games) and a couple of emissaries from the organization who inform those present that the restaurants and cafeterias will not open. “It would not be profitable,” they say while shrugging their shoulders. Impossible to even have a snack for the barely 100 spectators -among officials, journalists and volunteers- of the inaugural Spain-Japan. Under normal conditions, the crowd would have been tremendous.
With the sleeping mole, the pavilion allows an express visit to its most remote corners. We are welcomed by one of the mascots of the Games, which this time have gone unnoticed and almost no one knows by their names; a pantallion lit with the colors of the flag of Japan; and of course the imposing LED lights, also on although they are useless on the pharaonic façade. The small museum in the Arena recalls that it was here that the 2006 FIBA World Cup was played. And together with the signed balls of that unforgettable final, the framed image of those who were champions and an euphoric Gasol lifting the cup. Now Pau is back. Too bad there is no one to applaud.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.