The Summer Olympics are meant to be the pinnacle of the sporting calendar, a historic event at which the world’s finest athletes and teams come together to battle for the right to be a champion. Every four years since 1896 (bar times of war), the games have gone ahead.
Rather ironically, the first modern Games to be canceled after the outbreak of World War II were the scheduled 1940 Olympics due to be held in Tokyo. 80 years later, Tokyo again fell foul of circumstance, with the 2020 games moved in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rescheduled event is due to start later this summer, but is there a possibility that once again, the pandemic will lead to the games being canceled?
There is a strong feeling in Japan that the current extended state of emergency amid rising virus cases should lead to yet another cancelation, with a recent poll suggesting as many as 60% of people in the country support the move. Calls for the event to be canceled have been growing since March, but time to make a decision is quickly running out.
With fewer than 80 days to go until the Summer Olympics are due to start, there is even support from Japanese politicians for calling the games off. Toshihiro Nikai is secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and in an interview with Japan’s TBS television station, he said: “If it seems impossible to go on with the games, they must definitely be canceled. If there is a surge in infections because of the Olympics, there will be no meaning to having the Olympics."
Could we really lose the Olympic Games for another year, potentially until the next scheduled event in 2024 due to take place in Paris? Could a generation of young athletes from the United States really be denied their chance to shine?
The US is by far the most successful nation to attend the Olympic Games, with a Bwin infographic showing how they have dominated track and field for more than a century, with 315 gold medals from an available 842. Here in the US, the pinch of losing the Games would be felt in terms of sporting achievement and dashed dreams, but in Japan, it could be catastrophic.
Officially, the Japanese government has invested more than US$15.4 billion into the Summer Olympics. The economic benefit of hosting the event is significant, and Tokyo would suffer significantly were it unable to host the Games. Culturally, the last time Tokyo hosted the Games was important for Japan, but in 2021, it is important for the whole world. At a time when businesses need a boost and residents need some degree of normality, losing the most high-profile sporting event of them all would be a mortal wound not only to Japan but to athletes and sporting events around the world.
It is highly likely domestic fans will not able to attend the Games, with foreign visitors already banned. While no high-profile athlete has openly condemned the current situation with the Games going ahead, Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka did skirt around the issue ahead of the Italian Open. “Of course, I want the Olympics to happen, but I think there’s so much important stuff going on, especially the past year,” she told ESPN. “A lot of unexpected things have happened. For me, I feel like if it is 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.”
Osaka may be just an athlete, but with more than 11,000 expected to descend on Tokyo in just a couple of months, it may be the athlete’s reticence to travel combined with Japan’s current situation that finally puts pay to Tokyo’s dream of a first Olympics in the city in almost 60 years.
Laylah Morton is a sports blogger with a passion for athletics and tennis. Her passion for sports started when she was young and she has dedicated her life to watching and reporting sporting events. In her free time she can be found on the tennis court.
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