A recent column in the Times  (of UK) by Richard Lloyd Parry asked if it was time to cancel the Tokyo Olympics. He noted the recent cancellation of the  50-year-old Glastonbury music festival for the second year in a row (along with the Chelsea Flower Show and other events) and quoted Sir Paul McCartney who observed “a hundred thousand people closely packed together with flags and no masks. Talk about super-spreader.”

This is why, he says , it seems obvious that such a massive event—15,000 participants from 200 countries, plus several times that number of judges, sponsors, journalists and hangers-on, spread over four weeks in the biggest city in the world, plus 80,000 volunteers and spectators with 11 million tickets sold–should also be cancelled, instead of going full steam ahead.

Lloyd-Parry’s column, also translated into Japanese,  drew a  huge response from readers in Japan who overwhelmingly agreed with him   

Of course, the likelihood of  the Games being canceled is remote, despite the fact that according to recent polls over 80% of the population thinks the Games should either be canceled or at least postponed again, because of the ongoing coronavirus problem which has caused the government to extend its recent state of emergency edict, while 56% of the Japanese  firms  polled think the Games should not be held this year. The vast sums of money already spent on the games would seem to prohibit this.

Tokyo’s will be the most expensive Olympic Games ever mounted, according to an Oxford University study. Olympic organizers put the official cost at $15.4 billion. But there is also a $6.7 billion in a privately funded budget. This amounts to about triple the original estimate and may in fact be a conservative estimate. No one seems to know, or is willing to say, how much has already been spent. But to call the Tokyo Olympics off now would directly hurt some of the world’s biggest companies, including Coca-Cola, Visa and General Electric, as well as NBC TV which  paid a fortune to own global  television rights to the Games. It’s not clear how much insurance would cover and cancellation would no doubt lead to years of legal arguments about who owes what to whom.  Then there is the fact that the Olympic village apartments have already been sold to people who are waiting to move in once the Games are concluded.

Income from the Games  is projected at over ¥700 billion, 350  billion from advertising revenue and sponsorships, much of which has already been received and in the bank.

Canceling the games, it is estimated, would  cost ¥640 billion. A financial disaster.

Cancellation would also, of course, represent what  Lloyd-Parry terms “a withering humiliation for the Japanese government.” It would  also be crushing to the young athletes who have spent years training for the world’s most prestigious sporting event.

As Lloyd-Parry put it, “Money, power and glamour say that the Olympics have to go ahead whatever happens; they are the runaway train that cannot be stopped. The question of public health has been officially ruled out as a consideration. As Yoshiro Mori, the former Tokyo Olympic boss, said, “no matter what situation with the coronavirus, we will hold the games.”

Japan has done a good job controlling the pandemic. It has suffered 8,068 deaths compared to the USA which has lost  519,000., an enormous difference  considering that  the population of the USA is two-and-a-half times that of Japan. This has nothing to do with vaccination, which has hardly begun in Japan — only a few tens of thousands of health workers have been given injections— but rather good hygiene and an almost complete ban on foreign visitors.

The Japanese authorities and the International Olympic Committee insist that they will do everything possible to Covid-proof the games. Details are far from clear, but they are likely to include repeated testing of athletes who will essentially be locked down in their Olympic “village”.) The athletes will not be required to be vaccinated, but the plan is to keep them in some sort of bubble, separated from the general populace. Foreign spectators will not  be allowed in unless they are special guests of Olympic officials, but domestic ticket holders will, in a controlled manner yet to be determined.

As Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, said the other week, “I am determined to achieve the games as a proof of human victory against the pandemic, a symbol of global solidarity and to give hope and courage around the world.”

The Japanese are quite capable of pulling this off and there are, of course,  already many, many  examples of controlled sporting events taking place around the world. As  Olympic expert Roy Tomizawa, author of 1964: The Greatest Year In The History of Japan, has pointed out, including the latest The Australian Open . “At the very least, he says, “a no-spectator Olympics could take place, particularly if the majority of athletes and related staff are vaccinated and tested on regular basis.”

“Having said that,” he added, “ neither or I nor most journalists are qualified to speak on the impact of control protocols combined with vaccinations and limited exposure to non-event related people.”

Nobody  knows what will happen between now and  the Opening Ceremony.

The Covid-19 virus could completely disappear, or, conversely, it could hit new highs and new variants could appear. It is quite possible to see Tokyo become a giant petri dish of corona viruses. You will see wild celebrations in the city after a gold medal victory by Japan and  foreign athletes will no doubt find their way  around bubble restrictions to Roppongi night clubs

It is a gamble. A big gamble.

As Lloyd-Parry said, his opinion.” Whatever precautions the authorities take, people will sicken if the Tokyo Olympics go ahead. Some of them will die. That is not a price that anyone should be asked to pay.”

It is money—NBC TV rights revenue—that is forcing the Olympics to be played in July and August, during what is quite often unbearable heat and humidity. And it is money that will force the Olympics to be held in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic.


A lawyer friend of mine writes, “I am minded of the situation during WWII, when Japanese military leaders knew as early as 1943 that there was no way to win, but couldn’t bring themselves to admit defeat (too much loss of face) so they fought on, at such a high cost! You don’t climb Everest in bad weather.


I will give the last word to Litro correspondent DM Zoutis  who summed up what he believes is  the minimum requirement for Japan: “

“Anyone coming to Japan must have a vaccine; no vaccine, no entrance. Athletes included. That is a minimum of sanity. We know from Sochi and from common sense that these young athletes will not social distance; they will be partying, sleeping together, enjoying their lives. These games will be a super spreader event risking the lives of average Japanese. And for what? No vaccine = no games!”

 It  is  insane to think any protocols will keep us safe. Either get us ALL the vaccine or cancel the games.


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