By Tracy Cabrera
TOKYO, JAPAN — Even as organizers grapple with schedules, preparations, and everything entering the final six months of the delayed Games of the XXXII Olympiad, disease experts have cautioned that the world’s biggest sporting event may turn out to be too big a gamble to take for the host country.
The Olympic Games are scheduled on July 23 but with much of Japan in a state of emergency and growing public opposition, organizers are under increasing pressure.
Though Japan has been less severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic as compared to many other advanced economies, a recent surge in cases spurred it to close its borders to non-resident foreigners and declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and other major cities in the country.
Too high a risk to ignore
With 15,000 athletes plus support staff expected to descend on Tokyo for the delayed Olympics and Paralympics Games from all over the world, the Games represent a unique challenge for organizers.
“Do you have to risk that? Risk by holding the Olympic Games? I don’t think so,” Kentaro Iwata, a prominent infectious diseases expert from Kobe University, enthused in an interview by Reuters.
“We are facing far more danger than last year, so why do you have to hold the Olympic Games, canceled last year due to risk of infections, this year?” Iwata added in a query.
Cancelation vs. pushing forward
Organizers have maintained that postponing the Games for another year is not on the table, leaving complete cancellation or striving ahead as the only options.
Health ministry official Kazuho Taguchi had earlier echoed comments from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that the government is continuing with preparations as planned.
At this point, the plans are not ‘conditional’ on the public or athletes being vaccinated against Covid-19, Taguchi further said. Canceling the Games, already set to cost Japanese organizers US$15.4 billion, would lead to huge financial losses.
Can’t repeat past mistakes
But Iwata, who rose to prominence with videos criticizing the quarantine of the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February doesn’t think holding the Games is the solution.
“Is it like the attitude of a bad gambler? The gambler who loses money just pours in (more) money to get it back,” he stressed.
With Covid-19 vaccination rollouts differing country-to-country, whether the Olympics can go ahead “depends on the Covid-19 situation not only in Japan but also in other countries,” Koji Wada, a professor at Tokyo’s International University of Health and Welfare pointed out.
“Even if the Games go ahead, full-contact sports like judo or wrestling will require more testing and attention to hygiene than other events,” Wada, who advises the government on the pandemic response noted.
The number of spectators, athletes, and events themselves, he added, may have to be curtailed
“A full-scale Olympics, which we usually have, may not be possible,” he concluded. (AI/MTVN)