Seemingly like clockwork, the months leading up to the Olympics are making headlines for the crisis, which usually involve things like how the host city isn’t ready or how none of the locals actually want the Games to go and often add some sort of scandal within the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for good measure.
Some problems are ultimately fixable: For the Melbourne Games in 1956, Australia’s refusal to lift its strict quarantine rules for equestrian events meant that horses and riders competed in Stockholm in June, while the rest of the competition was held in November. Other issues are integral to their global context, such as the international debate over whether to boycott Berlin in 1936 after the Nazi Party came to power.
In more recent history, the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi had a few doozies – environmental violations, the construction of a snowboard site on “Red Hill” (the site of an infamous massacre ), a 2013 Russian anti-gay measure that sparked an international outcry, the imprisonment of Pussy Riot for singing a song about Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral – among many others.
And do you remember Zika? It was the virus many predicted would end the Rio 2016 Olympics before they even started, seen as a threat to athletes and spectators.
Covid-19 to Zika: Hold my glass. For Tokyo 2020, as it is still called despite its unprecedented postponement, the IOC has estimated that 80% of athletes in the Olympic Village will be vaccinated, and rates of Covid in Japan, which are currently on the decline after a surge in May caused extreme blockages, were much lower than those in the United States. But still, barely 2-3% of the Japanese population are vaccinated, although vaccination rates are finally increasing.
Regardless, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a Level 4 warning on May 24 stating that “travelers should avoid all travel to Japan” and included fully vaccinated people in their notice. . The Japanese government for its part has banned international spectators and left unanswered the question of whether or not locals will be able to sit and watch the competition.
Tokyo 2020 or 2021 (call it whatever you like) will undoubtedly be Olympic Games like no other; they are as important as they are damaged. And it’s not just the Covid. In February, Yoshiro Mori, chairman of the Tokyo organizing committee, resigned after a series of sexist remarks, such as his claim that women talk too much at meetings, came to light. At 50 days off last Thursday, some 10,000 volunteers – a vital workforce for any Olympics – had given up, citing reasons related to the virus, both directly and indirectly, including fear of falling ill , economic difficulties, travel difficulties, etc. .
It wasn’t supposed to be that way for Tokyo.
Tokyo will not be the first Olympic Games affected by the global plague. In 1920, Antwerp hosted an Olympic Games designed to bring the world together after World War I, with the flag of the Olympic rings fluttering for the first time. It also took place in the wake of the 1918 influenza pandemic. One of the legendary stories of those Olympics was 14-year-old American diver Aileen Riggin, who won a gold medal after she started swimming in as part of his recovery from the virus.
But the two pandemics, Olympic historian Bill Mallon, a day surgeon, recently told me, present “two very different situations – the Spanish flu came and went really fast because it was so deadly, and it got worse. is consumed. It really affects Antwerp to any degree. ”
The Covid-19, on the other hand, is far from extinct. Much of the world is still in the process of determining the acquisition and distribution of immunization or in shock at the devastation – human, economic, psychological – the virus has caused. Like all viruses, the coronavirus doesn’t care about national borders and doesn’t seem to care what the world can do with a wellness sporting event right now, an event that brings together thousands of athletes from around the world.
So while Covid appears to be on the decline, the bottom line is that it is still with us. In July, tens of thousands of visitors will be residing in Japan, including athletes, media, coaches and officials like IOC President Thomas Bach, who canceled a trip to Japan in May because of, well, Covid .
But the time to consider whether or not Tokyo should happen is gone. The Games are going to take place, despite warnings from the CDC and the Department of State in the United States, and the fact that the host nation’s vaccination rates remain at a low global level.
This reality leaves spectators with some options regarding the next Olympic Games.
First, we can focus on what the athletes are doing right now because they are doing wonderful things. When Simone Biles landed her double pike Yurchenko at the US Classic and then won her seventh national title two weeks later? Yes, it’s exciting, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I really want to see her compete in other Olympics.
I also want to see long-distance runner Sifan Hassan, who just broke the world record in the 10,000 meters over 10 seconds, and sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who just ran the fastest 100 meters in the world. world since Florence Griffith-Joyner. I want to see the return of baseball – Team USA! To finish! – and softball in the Olympic fold. I want to see new Olympic events like surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing make their debuts with their own stars, like powerful Slovenian climber Janja Garnbret and Briton Sky Brown, who finished second in a skateboard qualification under ‘a year after breaking his skull.
I want to see Frenchman Teddy Riner become the superstar he deserves to be, come back to defend an unprecedented third title in judo. I want to see the gymnasts of the world defy tradition and the rules and compete in bodysuits instead of leotards. And I want to meet the athletes we don’t even know we love yet, the Cinderella stories, the David vs. Goliath winners, the unique wonders of the Olympics.
Second, we can recognize that all of this desire and joy exists in tension with the sober reality of this moment in history, framed by Covid as well as with consideration of issues of health care, racism and fairness. global. While racial and social justice may be more visibly dominant in the American sports landscape, athletes in Tokyo will face the IOC’s doubling of Rule 50, its lockdown on political statements. Messages sent from the victory podium – whether with knees bent or fists raised, symbols so powerfully embraced by so many athletes – are explicitly prohibited.
Yet overt political actions like these are not the only policies to be found. Hosting these Games is a process entirely shaped by the policy of access to vaccines and other resources, including the ability to continue training during postponement. Covid did not invent the problems, the fractures, that the world has seen. Inequalities in health care and economic infrastructure existed long before the virus appeared and will remain so after. On the contrary, Covid has put a spotlight on these global imbalances, a spotlight that Tokyo 2020 will continue to improve.
Finally, we can recognize that these Olympics, in a way, tell us everything we need to know right now about the world’s situation with Covid. Just as the NBA shutdown turned out to be America’s wake-up call early on, a soccer game in Bergamo, Italy verified the virus was airborne and back. baseball showed what a cautious fresh start could look like, warts and all, Tokyo, for better or worse, is yet another litmus test provided by the sport. And when the flame is lit at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on July 23, we may be able to begin to see, for good and bad, what our next chapter will be.