At less than two months from the starting of the 2021 Summer Olympic Games that will be held in Japan, the event is still surrounded by numerous controversies. Despite a surge in positive cases and the COVID-19 state of emergency being applied to Tokyo and nine other regions until the 19th of June, nothing seems to stop the competition to go ahead as planned. The number of contaminations recorded by the country is not comparable to the vertiginous Western ones. Indeed, the Land of the Rising Sun registered “only” a total of 750.000 people affected by the disease and more than 13.000 casualties since the beginning of the pandemic. Nonetheless, medical experts have warned the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that going forward with the programme might contribute to an increase of the virus’ spread. Furthermore, the majority of the hosting nation’s population and some members of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) have also voiced their discontent with the pursuit of the Games. However, a mixture of contracts, economic arrangements, and insurance deals seem to constraint the Nippon leadership and the IOC to their decision.
Numerous sides have expressed their opposition to hosting the Tokyo 2021 Games while Coronavirus is still raging in some areas of the world.
As of May 2021, a survey illustrated how more than 70% of Nippon public opinion did not want the games to go ahead as planned. Since then, the number of opponents grew to more than 80%, as a new study of the newspaper Asahi Shimbun has shown. To emphasise their opinion, some citizens have decided to rally around an online petition named “Stop Tokyo Olympics”, calling for the event to be cancelled and requesting the IOC to take into consideration the community’s sentiment. The campaign’s coordinator, Kenji Utsonomiya, has gathered public dissent and stated that the movement “strongly call(s) for the prevention of spread of coronavirus and protection of lives and livelihood by using available resources to stop the Olympics”. In particular, the population’s concerns emerge from the fact that even with foreign spectators banned to attend the competitions, around 90.000 people, ranging from contestants, trainers, journalists, employees and sponsors are supposed to converge there in July. Moreover, even though the IOC forecasts that more than 80% of athletes will be immunized by the starting of the event, vaccination is not a mandatory prerequisite. Many fear that this might add to the surge in people affected by Coronavirus, putting the already heavily pressured national healthcare system under a lot of strain. Following this logic, various towns have decided not to host Olympic athletes in an attempt to prevent a new breakout. As a result of the conflicting views between the nation and the government over the Olympics issue, the Suga administration has recorded its lowest level of support, falling at 37% of approval.
With these many controversies surrounding the worldwide competition and the pandemic still representing a threat, many would think it would be logical to call off the event altogether. However, a combination of contractual obligations, economic and insurance deals have sealed Japan into a deadlock. Indeed, as Kaori Yamaguchi, an administrator of the JOC, has commented: “We have been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop now” and “(W)e are damned if we do and damned if we don’t”.
The first limiting factor for the Nippon administration is the fact that the arrangement between the IOC and the Olympics’ host city does not allow the Suga administration to cancel the Games and instead, places all decision-making power in the IOC’s hands. Per agreement, the IOC is the “owner” of the competition and therefore, the sole entity able to call it off. The Committee could cancel the sports event if “the IOC has reasonable grounds to believe, in its sole discretion, that the safety of participants in the Games would be seriously threatened or jeopardised for any reason whatsoever”. Nevertheless, a global epidemic does not seem to fall under these criteria, with one of the IOC’s members commenting the Olympics will go ahead “barring Armageddon”.
Moreover, cancelling or postponing once more the contests would further increase its already colossal budget. Indeed, the Tokyo 2021 Olympics will go down in history as the most expensive Summer Games with an outstanding $35 billion budget for their organization, obliterating the original $7.5 billion spending plan.
Finally, another element limiting Japan’s ability to stop this spiralling process is the insurance system that would be triggered were the Olympics to be abolished. The $2-3 billion insurers’ damage would not only be the biggest event cancellation case in the world, but it would also not be able to compensate the indirect expenses piled up by investors in preparation for the competition.
What was supposed to represent the “symbolic revival of Japan”, allowing the country to move on from the disasters connected to Fukushima, the slow economy and the tsunamis, turned out to be the government’s worst nightmare. The competitions have not yet started but Tokyo 2021 has already created several economic, social and political damages. One alleged victim of the summer event might be a JOC’s senior official, whose death is currently being investigated as a potential suicide. Furthermore, at less than one month and a half from the starting of the opening ceremony, another casualty is the event’s sportsmanship which seems to have gradually lost ground to financial interests. Indeed, as Kaori Yamaguchi, a past Olympian medallist and member of the IOC, has commented “(W)hat will these Olympics be for and for whom? The Games have already lost meaning and are being held just for the sake of them”.
Written by Cinzia Saro
Cinzia Saro is a columnist at DecipherGrey.