Johannesburg – The joy that engulfed Japan when Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games was replaced by anxiety last year when the sporting extravaganza was put on ice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Organisers scrambled to rearrange things, and the Games will now be held from July 23 to August 8 this year.
But fears still abound.
A recent opinion poll in Japan indicates that nearly 60 percent of people in that country want the Games cancelled.
Although Japan is inviting thousands of people from across the world in the middle of the pandemic, the government has extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until the end of May and is battling a surge in COVID-19 cases.
This has caused panic about whether or not the Games should go ahead, especially considering that Japan’s vaccination rate is the lowest among wealthy nations.
Quizzed in parliament on May 10 regarding the state of preparedness as the Games draw nearer, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga himself said: “I’ve never put Olympics first. My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population. We must first prevent the spread of the virus.”
John Coates, the International Olympic Committee vice-president, was quoted saying “while Japanese sentiment about the Games was a concern”, he could foresee no scenario in which the sporting extravaganza would not go ahead.
The Southern Times Sport spoke to sport and health analysts in South Africa, some of whom said it could be best to shelve the Games once more.
“World leaders and the United Nations should make a quick decision before a catastrophe happens. Just take a look at what is happening in India and other countries. All these new variants that continue to emerge are going to have a good breeding ground if this Olympics madness is not stopped. The world is already strained and doesn’t need more pressure from issues that can be avoided,” said health expert Nkosazana Sitombe.
She warned that the Olympics could become a major international supper spreader event.
“People from all over the world will mix, each with variants from their countries and this might produce the worst variant. As health officials we would be grateful if the world considers people’s lives over sport,” she said.
An official who is scheduled to travel to Tokyo with a sports team, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was considering excusing himself from the delegation.
“It’s a huge gamble. The truth is all the excitement I had when the team qualified is gone. I am a family man and my family needs me more. How do I solve this? I am the breadwinner and this is my job but for Tokyo, I would rather lose the job than having my family lose me. This is not a joke. Japan is on lockdown as we speak and how are these games going to take place when things are like that.”
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka recently told journalists that holding the Games right now was a huge challenge.
“Of course I want the Olympics to happen, but I think there’s so much important stuff going on, especially the past year. A lot of unexpected things have happened. For me, I feel like if it’s putting people at risk then it definitely should be a discussion, which I think it is as of right now. At the end of the day I’m just an athlete, and there is a whole pandemic going on, so, yeah,” said Osaka.
IOC president Thomas Bach’s was scheduled to visit Japan this month but the trip was cancelled after a state of emergency was declared in Tokyo.