LANE ONE: Bad news for anti-Olympic whiners: Tokyo Games will go on, and it appears some spectators may be allowed!

The roller-coaster ride that has been the Games of the XXXII Olympiad just whipped through another barrel roll with not only an assurance that the event will be held, but a Saturday news report that a limited number of spectators will likely be allowed as well!

The final meeting of the International Olympic Committee’s Coordination Commission for the Tokyo Games was held online last week, with Chair John Coates (AUS) asked if the event could be held during a local state of emergency owing to the coronavirus infection rate in the Tokyo area:

“We’ve successfully seen five sports hold their test events during the state of emergency, all of them with the plans that we had in place to protect the safety and security of the athletes, and the people of Japan, based around the worst possible circumstances, so the answer is absolutely yes.”

The IOC’s announcement at the conclusion of the meeting added:

“The Coordination Commission was further encouraged by the many sporting events taking place successfully around the globe, noting that more than 54,000 athletes have competed in over 430 major sports events since September 2020, all held safely for participants and the local population.”

Coates and the organizers pointed to the countermeasures which have been developed to assure the safety not only of the competitors, but also the local population. Kyodo News reported:

“Coates said unfavorable public opinions over the games are a ‘correlation’ with the low vaccination rate, though he expects they will improve when more people are vaccinated.

“‘But if it doesn’t (improve), then our position is that we just have to make sure we get on with our job, and our job is to ensure these games are safe for all participants and all of the people in Japan who might come into contact with the participants,’ he said.”

Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto explained the confidence of the organizing committee further:

“At present, there are people who feel uneasy that the Games will be held with a lot of people coming from abroad and being together. There are other people concerned about the possible burden on the medical system in Japan by organizing the Games. To these concerns, I would like to implement what I call ‘three thoroughs’:

“The first one is the thorough reduction in the number of the inbound people.

“The second one is the thorough restriction of the activities and behavior.

“The third is the thorough review of the medical system.”

She isn’t kidding. The reduction of the number of visitors to Japan has been cut dramatically and is continuing. Foreign spectators have been banned and the expected 180,000 officials and technicians of all kinds for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games has been cut to 78,000 (so far). The Associated Press reported Hashimoto explaining:

“Olympic ‘stakeholders’ would amount to 59,000, of which 23,000 were Olympic family and international federations. She said an added 17,000 would involve television rights holders, with 6,000 more media.”

(If accurate, then the number of news media coming to Tokyo won’t be much less than that for Rio in 2016, when 25,696 media were accredited, with an almost identical split between press and broadcast.)

Also on Friday, the British Olympic Association announced that all of its Olympic and Paralympic athletes and staff will be vaccinated prior to the Tokyo Games. PanAm Sports is arranging for 6,000 vaccinations, using the Johnson & Johnson single-shot dose, to be available to its athletes at centers in Miami and Houston, and offering free air transport to get there.

Look for many more countries to announce that their teams will be fully vaccinated before arrival in Japan.

On Saturday, Kyodo reported:

“More Japanese government officials and Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics organizers are inclined to allow a certain number of spectators at this summer’s games if thorough anti-coronavirus measures are taken, sources close to the matter said Saturday.”

This sounds like a surprise, but tracks exactly with what the organizers and the Japanese government have said about spectators, taking their cue from the ongoing professional baseball and soccer seasons. The Kyodo story noted: “Adding to the push to have spectators is the track record of pro baseball and pro soccer in admitting fans without significant trouble.”

During the current state of emergency, attendance at events has been allowed, for up to 5,000 or 50% of the venue capacity, depending on the facility involved. The decision on whether Olympic spectators will be allowed and how many, is due next month.

This is pretty amazing, and it is also very possible that no spectators will be allowed in order to eliminate one more problem related to the Games. But if Nippon Professional Baseball games are being played with fans in the stands, why not the Olympics as well? For example, in games played on Friday (21st), attendance included:

● 11,788 at Chiba (Chiba 3, Rakuten 1)
● 10,047 at Tokorozawa (Seibu 8, Nippon 1)
● 5,192 in Nagoya (Yomiuri 5, Chunichi 4)

What about attendance in Tokyo? On Saturday, Yakult defeated Yokohama, 1-0, before 4,976 at Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo. The famous Tokyo Dome hosted 4,550 on the 19th for a game between Hiroshima and the Yomiuri Giants.

You don’t hear much about this in discussions about Games attendance, do you?

The Olympic Charter states that “The practice of sport is a human right.” It does not say – by the way – that the “Olympic Games are a human right.”

No one is required to go to the Olympic Games. It’s fully optional. If you don’t want to go, don’t go. Someone else will be happy to go in your place.

That applies to individual athletes, as well as entire National Olympic Committees. It also applies to journalists and people with social media accounts. In fact, because of the foreign-spectator ban, a majority of people who want to go to the Games from outside Japan will not be able to.

The Olympic Games originated as a religious festival in ancient Greece and was attended by athletes from Greek city-state entities. Now we have National Olympic Committees from around the world and the event does bring nationalities together – in one place, at the same time – like nothing else on the planet today.

Thanks to television, almost everyone can watch. The most put-upon folks during the Games period won’t be the Japanese people, whose lives will barely be touched by the hermetically-sealed Olympic Village and venues with modest numbers of spectators (if any at all). It will be the athletes and attending officials and news media, who are going to go through a daily routine of being tested, re-tested and told where they can’t go.

But they all volunteered – and want – to be there.

And for those whimpering, sniveling malcontents who scream about accountability for those officials who are allowing this? Remember that there will be national elections in Japan in the fall, which must be held on or before 22 October: just 7 1/2 weeks after the closing of the Paralympic Games on 5 September.

In a democratic country like Japan, that’s real accountability. And that says something for the confidence that its leadership has in hosting something as relatively small as the Games in Tokyo (and Sapporo), while fighting the much larger issue of the coronavirus across the entire country.

Rich Perelman
Editor

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