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Should the Tokyo Summer Olympics Be Held?

Should the Tokyo Summer Olympics Be Held?

Like the rest of the world, the Olympics felt the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The 2020 Summer Olympics, originally set to be held in Tokyo, Japan from July 24 to August 9, were postponed a year. 

Since 1896, when the modern Olympic Games began, a postponement has happened six times. The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics were the first to get pushed back since the 1944 Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

With new dates in place stretching from July 23 to August 8, 2021, the green light appears to be on in Japan. But with COVID-19 still spreading rapidly throughout the world and social-distancing precautions remaining in place, is holding the Summer Olympics in 2021 a good idea?

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Should the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics Be Held?

Infographic courtesy of Statista

The infographic above from Statista sheds an interesting light on the subject. In a February survey conducted in Japan, 33 percent of respondents stated that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games should be postponed once more. 

Twenty-eight percent of respondents were in favor of the event taking place without spectators, while another 28 percent wanted the Olympics to be canceled altogether. Eight percent thought it should go forward with spectators in attendence.

That’s a pretty wide-ranging public opinion. Based on the poll, it appears even Japanese locals are split on what the Olympic Games should do going forward. 

Japan’s Slow Vaccine Rollout Might Hinder Olympics

If you’re looking for an angle to argue in favor of the Olympic Games getting either postponed or canceled, you won’t have a hard time getting backed up by medical experts.

“It is best not to hold the Olympics given the considerable risks,” Dr. Norio Sugaya, an infectious diseases expert at Keiyu Hospital in Yokohoma, told the Associated Press. “The risks are high in Japan. Japan is dangerous, not a safe place at all.” 

According to Sugaya, vaccinating 50 to 70 percent of the general public should be “a prerequisite” to safely hold the Olympics, which is not a likely scenario given the slow vaccine rollout in Japan. As of March 30, less than one percent of the population has been vaccinated, and all are medical professionals. Most of the general public is not expected to be vaccinated by the time the Olympics begin.

“Tens of thousands of foreigners are going to be entering the country, including mass media, in a short period of time,” Sugaya said. “The challenges are going to be enormous.”

Mass Influx of Travelers To Japan Could Trigger a Fourth COVID Wave

Olympic organizers say they will hold a “safe and secure” Olympics by keeping athletes and officials in a “bubble,” administering periodic tests and getting everyone to leave Japan as soon as they can.

Last week, the International Olympic Committee – the chief driver of the Games – said it would cut back on the number of accredited participants entering Japan, providing credentials only to those who “have essential and operational responsibilities.”

Per Japanese news agency Kyodo, 90,000 people are expected to enter Japan from abroad. Approximately 30,000 of those are Olympic and Paralympic athletes, coaches, staff and officials. 

According to projections from Taisuke Nakata and Daisuke Fujii, professors of economics at the University of Tokyo, daily infection cases in Tokyo will total more than 1,000 people by May while peaking in July, which is when the Olympics are set to start.

What Is the Financial Impact of Not Having the Games? 

The IOC won’t admit it, but the decision to once again postpone or cancel the Olympics altogether would come with massive financial ramifications. With just under four months to go, the torch relay has begun to crisscross Japan with 10,000 runners. 

It comes as hardly a surprise that the committee is still preparing to go forward as planned. The reality is, Tokyo is pot-committed to hosting the Olympics. The Japanese government is officially spending $15.4 billion US to prepare the Olympics, but several government audits say it could be twice that much. All but $6.7 billion is public money.

Even in non-pandemic times, the Olympics are often considered a massive long-term financial liability for the host city. That’s especially true for Tokyo. The postponement entailed increased financial burdens and depending on the future scenario awaiting the Games, the originally projected monetary gains might disappear altogether.

Here’s a breakdown of the estimated economic loss of the Tokyo Olympics in billion Japanese yen, via Statista: