LANE ONE: If the Tokyo Games don’t take place, it won’t be for a lack of trying on Japan’s part

If you listen to the experts, the open-mouthed sharpies and all the crystal-ball wizards, there’s no way the Games of the XXXII Olympiad will take place in Tokyo next summer.

If you look at what’s happening on the ground in Japan, the story looks a lot different.

The Tokyo 2020 organizers and the governments within Japan are incrementally re-opening the country and its sporting venues, while the incidence of Covid-19 has been held to remarkably low levels within the country. Consider:

● Reuters reported on 15 October that tests are on now for professional baseball games with 80% spectator capacity in Yokohama, a significant upgrade over the current 50% capacity arrangement now in force:

“As well as having their temperature checked upon entry and disinfectant being available throughout the venue, which can host up to 45,000, all fans had to give their contact details to staff in case of an outbreak.”

In Tokyo, Yomiuri Giants staff member Masatoshi Yamada told Reuters:

“‘After being able to accept spectators, we have done various anti-coronavirus measures that we hadn’t done before.

“‘We have proposed a new cheering style, which is to cheer without shouting, as well as disinfection of seats and distribution of alcohol wipes.’”

● A late September meeting of a government-led panel on athlete safety for the Games was reported to approve athlete entry into Japan, but with conditions:

“[A]thletes wishing to enter Japan must also be tested within 72 hours before their departure time and submit negative results.

“The panel agreed that athletes can train or compete within 14 days of their arrival, which is currently the required quarantine period, if they also follow measures such as carrying a smartphone with a contact tracing app and keeping a record of their health condition.”

This program is modeled on a protocol worked out to allow business travelers from specified countries to enter Japan.

As to athletes from highly-infected countries, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) said on social media last week that

“The athletes are not responsible for [the virus rate in their home nations]. If the athletes test negative, if they respect the anti-coronavirus guidance … we should give them the chance to participate.”

Further, a discrete clinic is being considered for the Athlete’s Village to deal specifically with coronavirus issues, away from the usual polyclinic for medical issues.

● For spectators, the Tokyo organizing committee demonstrated a possible process for spectator entry into the sports venues last week. Kyodo News Service reported:

“Three different methods for measuring temperature were utilized in the experiment, including thermography, contactless temperature sensors and a ‘temperature sticker’ that can indicate whether a person has a fever when affixed to their wrist.

“An attempt was also made to keep people waiting in line separated by intervals of 1 to 1.5 meters, while security guards conducting inspections wore masks and face shields.”

The three-day trial of the protocol also included the usual metal-detector scans of bags for disallowed items as part of an integrated program, more with training sessions to be done as the Games come closer.

● Further, a program of facial recognition technology is being considered to help prevent any spread of the virus. Kyodo News reported:

“According to the sources, one plan is to station security cameras equipped with the technology at stadiums and venues to record spectators’ faces and body surface temperatures, and to see if they are wearing masks.

“The recorded data is expected to help prevent cluster infections in case an individual at a game is discovered to be infected later, by helping pinpoint possible virus carriers, tracing their routes and notifying those who were in close contact.

“The government is also considering placing cameras at the entrances to athletes’ villages and training camps to record the dates and times athletes entered and left, the sources said.”

Civil libertarians won’t like that plan, but if your son or daughter is competing in Tokyo and you want to go, you will have to comport with the Japanese plan for the Games. After all, you aren’t required to go.

● The doubts over whether the Tokyo Games will be held at all look a little less threatening when one looks at the control of the spread of the coronavirus within Japan itself. While a highly industrialized country with high-density cities, Japan’s total reported cases now total just 97,503.

That out of a population of 126 million, which is no. 11 on the world’s population list. But the reported caseload ranks 49th worldwide, well behind countries such as Belgium, Qatar and Panama.

No one can forecast what the situation will be in six months – when the go/no go decision will have to be finalized – but the environment for the Games within Japan itself is looking better and better. If professional baseball games are being played with full spectator capacity or near-full capacities, the Olympic Games can certainly go on.

Perhaps the major question about the viability of the 2020 Games in 2021 will come from outside Japan – as it did last March – when the virus paralyzed Europe and North America. Some athletes will be infected and won’t be able to go. Spectators from some countries – perhaps many countries – may not be able to attend the Games.

But given that the thirst for tickets to the Games within Japan was almost endless – prior to the pandemic – this may not matter in terms of filling those seats allowed to be used. And it sets up perfectly for television and social-media platforms which can show/Webcast home viewing parties in countries around the globe.

And what if a vaccine comes onto the scene in the first quarter of 2021?

New Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been telling lawmakers and the public that “I am determined to host the Games as proof that humanity has defeated the pandemic.” If the Tokyo Games are staged in 2021 as planned – even with reduced spectator capacity – it will be a considerable affirmation of Japan’s ability, determination and capacity to overcome what has appeared to be an intractable blight on the globe. Rising sun indeed.

Not that the sharpies will care. They’ll be braying just as loud about the next disaster, which, if not immediately apparent, will be manufactured to suit their needs.

Rich Perelman

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