THE Tokyo Olympic Games, set to commence on July 23, have drawn major controversy since last year. Uncertainty still surrounds the Games as the host country Japan, like the rest of the world, remains in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. Originally scheduled to be held in 2020, the Games were postponed as infections surged globally. This year, Japanese officials, Olympics organisers and the International Olympic Committee have pledged to hold a ‘safe and secure’ event. Though strict virus-prevention measures are being put in place for the Games, which have already seen foreign spectators banned from Japanese shores while a decision on domestic audiences is awaited, tens of thousands of athletes and officials, mediapersons and others will be descending on the Japanese capital thus exacerbating the risk of infection. Such concerns have not been ignored. Recent polls conducted by newspapers and environmental and social welfare organisations show that as many as 70pc of the public in Japan is angry and want the Games either scrapped or postponed again.

To make matters worse, the head of a doctors’ union in Japan warned last week that holding the Games in Tokyo this summer could lead to the emergence of an ‘Olympic’ coronavirus variant that would be hard to contain. A number of countries including the US have advised their citizens against travelling to Japan but Olympic organisers say this will not affect the event. The bigger issue for them are the billions of dollars at stake as the Games involve major international sponsors who cannot afford the risk of the Olympics being delayed again. For thousands of athletes, too, who have been preparing for the extravaganza for many months now, further delay could mean the loss of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Olympic glory. The head of the IOC insists there is no Plan B and that the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead as planned — a precarious route indeed. What price Japan will have to pay will be evident soon enough.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2021

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