Athletics / The Nation and the World

2020 Olympics carry on a year later despite pandemic concerns

Last year, thousands of athletes from all over the world expected to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic games, as well as the 2020 Tokyo Summer Paralympics. However, the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee agreed in March 2020 that the Olympics should be postponed until the following year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been about a year since that decision was made, and as of now, the Japanese Olympic Committee remains committed to making sure that the Olympics and Paralympics go on. In fact, the Olympic Torch Relay began on March 25 and is expected to last for 121 days as the torch makes its way through the different prefectures of Japan. The final day of the torch run, July 23, marks the official start of the Games.

Recently, Japan has declared a third state of emergency as COVID-19 cases rise once more, and according to CNN, “so far Japan has only vaccinated about 1.1 million of its 126 million people — less than 1% of the population.”

The recent announcement of the state of emergency has led some of the towns that were planned to host athletes to withdraw their host status. For example, the town of Okuizumo was set to host India’s field hockey team but has now withdrawn.

A few countries have already withdrawn their athletes from the Games. Australia and Canada decided in March that they would not send athlete if it were not postponed. According to CNBC, Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic committees stated that “nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community.” As of April 6, North Korea has also opted out of the Olympics as well “to protect players from the world public health crisis caused by Covid-19.” 

Before the latest state of emergency was issued, Bloomberg reported that “Tokyo has ruled out using two core tenets of containment: quarantines and vaccinations. Without those, experts say infections could spread.” Japan’s Olympic Committee has since revised their pandemic playbook. Now, all athletes and coaches have to test for the virus 96 hours before arriving in Japan, and athletes will engage in daily testing. International spectators are still barred from entering the country to watch the events.

There is some positive buzz surrounding the upcoming Olympics, as masked citizens can be seen spectating the torch run in their hometowns and Japanese officials are voicing their pride in their efforts to keep the event going. 

On the official Tokyo 2020 Olympics website, President Hashimoto Seiko of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing committee spoke at the start of the torch run ceremony. “When we started the Relay and the torch was lit, it moved me to tears. I was so happy,” she reflected. Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has also dismissed the idea of cancelling the event, reassuring the general public that there would be “no change to the government position to do everything to achieve safe and secure Olympics.”

However, the state of emergency has also sparked disapproval domestically. The Guardian reported that “Public opinion… [in Japan] is firmly opposed to the Games, with a recent poll showing that 39.2% thought they should be cancelled, and 32.8% calling for them to be postponed a second time.” Other sources such as the Associated Press have reported that “polls show as many as 80% in Japan oppose holding the Olympics during the pandemic.”

Despite the concerns, the United States has begun to confirm athletes and teams, as both the women’s and men’s basketball teams earned spots in the Games and are already assembling their rosters. For soccer, the women’s team qualified for the Olympics with a current undefeated streak. However, the men’s soccer team failed to qualify.

Kate Bossert ‘21, a Dana Hall soccer player who is committed to playing soccer at the University of Vermont, commented that she usually watches the women’s soccer team play. “I was really sad when everything got shut down [last year]. I’m glad that there are finally games that they can play in.”

Amidst their state of emergency, Japan has not let these criticisms nor withdrawals deter them from proceeding. The torch run continues and athletes train on, readying themselves to compete in July.

Image sources: Official website of the 2020 Olympics; Getty Images.

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