The 2021 Olympic Games – – which were supposed to be the 2020 Olympic Games – – are slated to begin in about 4 months in Tokyo. There remains some uncertainty about the Games, but the IOC has said that if they need to be postponed in 2021, the Games will be canceled, and all future IOC energy will be focused on the Games scheduled for 2024. So, what is the current status?
The Japanese oversight organization for staging the Olympic Games had been headed by Yoshiro Mori who used to be the Prime Minister of Japan. He found it necessary to resign from that post after making a sexist comment saying that he thought women talk too much in meetings. Interestingly, he was replaced in that leadership role by a woman – – Seiko Hashimoto – – who had previously represented Japan in the Olympics as a speedskater. Sports organizations internationally do not have large representations of women in leadership roles; Japan is not the only venue where males dominate the top spots. There is some sentiment that if Ms. Hashimoto leads these games through to a smooth and safe end point, it will strike a blow for women who seek to advance along that career path.
In that sense, I sincerely hope that Ms. Hashimoto wins the day. If she does, she will do so with more than the normal burden of organizing and control associated with a “normal” set of Olympic Games. The COVID-19 pandemic will not be history by July 2021, but it will be better than it was last July and better than it is here in mid-March 2021. Vaccine availability and vaccination rates get better by the week in developed countries and in the developing world. The trend is in a positive direction; the unknown is what the status will be in July…
Some countries have placed a priority on getting their Olympic athletes vaccinated; if that were to happen nearly worldwide, that would make the Olympic Village and the events themselves safer by no small margin. And that leads to a potential ethical question for the IOC and the Japanese hosts:
- What to do with an athlete who is not vaccinated?
An even thornier question might be:
- If Athlete A is not vaccinated because vaccine was unavailable in his country, should s/he be treated in the same way that Athlete B is treated if Athlete B was presented with the vaccine and refused to take it?
To my mind, any and all of the logistical and ethical questions involving the athletes pale in comparison to the questions about spectators for the Games. On one hand, it is the presence of spectators – and the money they will bring with them and spend in Japan – that will reduce the economic burden created by the costs associated with hosting the Games. If history is any guide, the Japanese taxpayer will not break even on this deal even if there were to be no travel or social restrictions come July. However, with every restriction that is put on attendees, the amount of red ink will increase.
Obviously, I have no idea what sorts of regulations may be in place in Japan in July, but it would not shock me to learn that there could be limitations placed on capacities at hotels and restaurants and bars in addition to capacity limitations on the events themselves. Might the immigration authorities demand that visitors from countries where the pandemic is “less controlled” show proof of vaccination? Will every spectator need to submit to a COVID-19 test prior to entering the event venue? This is not going to be walk in the park for the Game organizers.
Keeping a good thought here, let me assume that things break right, and thousands of athletes arrived in Japan ready and able to participate. There will be the normal contingent of Olympic events including track and field, swimming, gymnastics, equestrian events … In addition, there will be 5 “new” sports on display this time:
- Baseball/Softball: These events return to the Olympics for the first time since 2008 when the Games were in Beijing.
- Karate: Evidently, people have advocated for karate to be part of the Olympics for several decades; I did not know that. Since the original Olympic Games were intended to demonstrate various skills associated with warfare and combat, karate seems like a good fit to me.
- Skateboarding: Believe it or not, there are two variants of skateboarding. One is referred to as “street skateboarding” where the course emulates a street with steps and handrails and curbs. The other variant is “park skateboarding” where the course itself presents hills and slopes and complex obstacles. [Aside: even with this new information, I shall not be spending any time watching even a moment of this competition.]
- Sport Climbing: Athletes here will scale a vertical wall. I guess this is like the hundred-meter dash staged at right angles to one another…
- Surfing: I would watch Skateboarding before watching surfing. ‘Nuff said…
Just for perspective here, there used to be an “Dueling pistols” event in the Olympics more than 100 years ago. In one incarnation, contestants fired actual bullets at plaster dummies at distances of 20 meters and 30 meters. In the other incarnation, contestants fired wax bullets at each other.
Finally, since today has been about the 2021 Olympic Games, let me close with a comment by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle about the opening ceremonies at the 2012 Olympics in London:
“They should’ve had Keith Richards light the Olympic flame by flicking a cigarette butt.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………