To be or not to be—Prospects of Tokyo Olympics hang in balance

Abhijit Sen Gupta
Abhijit Sen Gupta

The modern Olympic Games began in 1896 and have been held every four years since then. Only on two occasions were they interrupted. The first interruption happened during the First World War and the second time it was during the Second World War. Now the question on everyone’s lips is: Will it be cancelled again due to the COVID pandemic?

The Games were to be held in Tokyo in 2020 and have been postponed to 2021 due to the last year’s pandemic. But the threat of the virus is as strong as ever and it is hovering menacingly over the mega event. Despite the confidence being shown by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and repeated assertions that the Games will be conducted, there are major doubts whether the show will finally be held or not. As per the official schedule, the Games will be inaugurated on July 23.

Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, has flatly stated that the Games will be held. There is no other option. Japan has invested millions of dollars into the hosting of the Games and the Government has said that this will be the best ever Games where preparations are concerned.

All athletes and support staff will be required to follow strict guidelines. They will be barred from using public transport or visiting tourist sites and bars. All participants will be vaccinated. Thereafter if they are found to be positive, they will be barred from competing. Those who have come into contact with them will also be barred. This looks very much like the bio bubble that was created for the IPL cricket tournament in India. But we all know what happened to that idea.

Health experts all over the world are extremely worried. Some have even voiced concerns that if the Games are held, it could turn out to be a super spreader. In April, Japan went through a fourth wave of the pandemic which affected the populations of Tokyo and Osaka severely. Moreover, public opinion in Japan is not enthusiastic about the hosting of the Games. More than 80 percent of the respondents of an opinion poll conducted by Kyodo News said they wanted the Games to be cancelled. Another poll by the Tokyo Broadcasting System put the figure at 81 percent.

Aloysius Edwards, the vastly experienced former Olympian from Hyderabad, is also v skeptical of the Games going through. Aloysius represented India at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and was a hockey goalkeeper who was well known for his agility and anticipation. The star who represented India in 147 matches including the 1994 World Cup, feels that the chances of the Olympic Games taking place are very slim.

Speaking to he said: “I am in touch with players and officials and my opinion is that it is unlikely that the Olympic Games will take place. Already the games have been postponed from last year to 2021. Again this year there is a problem with the coronavirus. It has not gone away and the situation has not improved. People are scared. Can the Games be held under these circumstances?” questioned the former goalkeeper.

“If the Games are cancelled, it will be very disappointing for the first timers who are looking forward to taking part in their first Olympics. The young players are all keyed up to show their talent. In many Olympic sports, the chance to earn glory comes for the players only once every four years when the Olympics take place. So if it is not held, then they will feel truly dejected. But then we have to look after health too. If they remain healthy they can think of taking part in the next Olympics,” he said.

“Also for the players who are on the verge of retirement it will be disappointing. Athletes like Mary Kom and Leander Paes would like to go out in a blaze of glory. If the Tokyo Games are cancelled, they will lose their chance. They too will feel very unhappy. The uncertainty is causing a lot of confusion in the minds of the players. They are unsure of whether they will get their opportunities or not. But the situation looks bad,” explained Aloysius.

“Badminton players like Saina Nehwal and K. Srikanth are in a quandary because the qualifying tournaments have been affected too. For us hockey players it is a double whammy. Our hockey teams are in splendid form. Both our men and women’s teams are doing well against international opponents. I heard that former hockey coach Bhaskaran had talked about the Olympics getting further pushed back. But I don’t think that can be possible because the calendar is packed,” said Aloysius.

According to the Washington Post, Japan began its vaccination drive on February 17 and the progress has been slow. It is expected that a small number of the population will be vaccinated by July. In the meantime, if there are any major outbreaks, there is bound to be a public outcry to cancel the Games. Hence, the Olympics are teetering on the edge of an abyss. The next few weeks may see some important developments concerning the fate of the Games.

Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.