Friday, September 17, 2021
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HomeWorldTokyo’s Pandemic Games Open | Scoop News

Tokyo’s Pandemic Games Open | Scoop News

The auguries are not good for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Resignations have filled the ledger, including Japanese
composer Keigo Oyamada, organising committee president
Yoshiro Mori and the creative director Hiroshi Sasaki. Then
there is the lamentable behaviour of the authoritarian
International Olympic Committee and the obsequious conduct
of the Suga government. The continued prospect of COVID-19
infections in the Olympic camp and public, have all been
marked off as manageable.

It will not matter that
athletes suffer infections. It will not matter that they
will be spread. It will be irrelevant that the Japanese
public do not want these games. The IOC will throw money and
a range of threats to make sure that officials comply. Some
of this was on show with the curt remarks by IOC official
John Coates to an Australian state premier, Queensland’s
Annastacia Palaszczuk, who was visiting Tokyo to receive
news that the city of Brisbane had been awarded the 2032
Olympic Games.

As Australian Olympic President, Coates
wished to impress upon the Queensland Premier that she had
to attend the opening ceremony in Tokyo and learn the ropes.
“You are going to the opening ceremony,” he berated
Palaszczuk. “I’m still the deputy chair of the
candidature leadership group and so far as I understand,
there will be an opening and closing ceremony in 2032 and
all of you are going to get along there and understand the
traditional parts of that, what’s involved in an opening
ceremony.” Gruffly, he issued an instruction. “So none
of you are staying behind and hiding in your rooms,

While much hot air has been made about
Coates, this vulgar episode served to show that the IOC is a
body that dictates rather than advises. The dictatorial
behaviour by Coates may well have been unintended, but was
symbolically potent. Used to years of giving directions, he
slipped into his comfortable norm of chastisement. The
direction to an elected politician superbly captured the
problems associated with an organisation that has done its
best to warrant abolition.

To justify Tokyo 2020, the
IOC has opted for a specially minted rhetoric that focuses
on the human spirit and global solidarity in times of
crisis, ignoring its own bullying and money hungry ways.
Think of the athletes and their challenges, the body tells
us, a celebration that supposedly signals a halt to
hostilities of countries as their sporting folk participate.
Forget the ballooning costs and resources that fall into
ruin after the tournament.

This has been the special
approach of IOC president Thomas Bach, who misspoke by
calling the Japanese “Chinese people”. He stated
on July 15, with an almost contemptuous air, that there was
“zero” risk of athletes passing on the virus to
residents of the Olympic village or to the Japanese populace
in general. The Mainichi newspaper put paid to that
assertion, noting
how athletes arriving in the country’s airports were doing
so in a state of “disarray” with some “coming close to
general travellers and fans asking for autographs”. The
idea of maintaining hermetic “Olympic bubbles” is
already proving spurious.

Bach has become a despot in
full form, dominating the IOC even more so than such
predecessors as Juan Antonio Samaranch. In this, he keeps
good company with Coates, who lectured Japan by insisting
that the games go ahead despite the pandemic and continuing
state of emergency. All health requirements and
prescriptions outlined in the organisation’s health
playbooks were sound, and opposition to the staging of the
games, he
confidently observed
, would wane as vaccination rates
improved. “I think that there’s a correlation between
the numbers who are concerned about their safety with the
numbers who have been vaccinated in Japan.”

As it
happens, Japan’s vaccination rate continues to be poor, as
is the general public impression of the games. Major
sponsors such as Fujitsu, Asahi and Panasonic have turned up
their nose at the opening ceremony. Toyota has joined them
and is refusing
to run advertising connected with the games “out of
sensitivity to the COVID-19 situation.”

health specialists are beside themselves with worry, though
a contribution
to the New England Journal of
earlier this month could still praise the games
as connecting “us at a time of global disconnect.”
Despite such enthusiasm, the authors were damning in
claiming that the IOC playbooks were “not built on
scientifically rigorous risk assessment, and they fail to
consider the ways in which exposure occurs, the factors that
contribute to exposure, and which participants may be at
highest risk.” According to one of the authors, Michael
Osterholm, the planning had focused on dealing with
respiratory droplets prevention. “The science is now
convincingly showing that this is an airborne virus,
largely, which means it’s like cigarette smoke, it will
float wherever.”

Japan’s officials also find
themselves in a bind. Japanese Olympic Committee board
member Kaori Yamaguchi was brutally frank in writing
that the games had “already lost their meaning and are
being held just for the sake of them.” The organisers had
“been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop
now. We are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.”
The opportunity to cancel had passed. This mad, costly
pandemic experiment is upon us.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark
was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He
lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

© Scoop Media


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