for Common Sense


By Robert Whiting

Why is  Tokyo still planning to  hold  the  Olympics? That is the question to ask as the city  battles  a coronavirus pandemic, with a  fourth Covid-19 wave now surging in the capital just weeks after wave number three abated and  more contagious  variants from overseas being detected.   

The city’s medical care system is strained to the limit, hospital beds are near full capacity and health care workers are having difficulty finding places to send new patients too.  The governor  of Tokyo continues to urge Tokyoites to avoid crowds and stay home as much as possible with a new state of emergency in the offing. The vaccine rollout has been excruciatingly  slow with no expectation that even half  the populace will be vaccinated by July when the Games begin.  Yet in the midst of all this the Tokyo  Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games plows ahead with the Olympic Torch Relay, a three-month  circuit around the nation, the opening ceremony having been held behind closed doors.

TOCOPG  officials tell us everything is under control. In March they  announced a ban on spectators from abroad attending the Summer because of virus fears. Following that,  as the  4th spike raised cases to alarming levels,  they announced they were considering halving the  number of official Olympic  travelers to Japan for the games this summer not directly related to the competition down to around 30,000 as a further counter measure against the coronavirus pandemic. They say they will institute  strict PCR testing, quarantines and social distancing measures and form a strategy to place restrictions on Japanese ticket  holders.

However, that still leaves more than 60,000 athletes, coaches, national team staff, media and other essential  workers from over 200 countries who are expected to converge on Tokyo—each with different rates of transmission, vaccination and viral variants. On top of that  there are the thousands of volunteers, the local staff, the cooks, the janitors and the delivery people that the Games will require.

Tokyo has ruled out quarantines and any requirement the athletes be vaccinated. The plan is to keep them all inside a tight bubble, undergoing  frequent testing, while prohibiting long conversations and collective meals during the Olympians time in the city. Lots of luck.

JOOPC authorities obviously hope that these measures will be enough to convince  countries with low Covid-19 rates that the environment in Tokyo will be safe enough to prevent them  from dropping out of the Games—as Australia and others did last spring causing the initial postponement of the 2020 Games and as the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea has already done this year.

The result may be an Olympics with hardly anybody in the stands and competing athletes having minimal contact with their hosts, which would seem to defeat the purpose of having an international Olympics in the first place.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The Japanese government  is, of course, desperate to avoid cancellation  of the Olympics because it would be seen as an unbearable loss of face. Their desperation can be seen in the fact that twice now prefectural governors have decided to cancel the Olympic Torch relay passing through their prefectures only to reverse those decisions under pressure from the  national government.   A cancellation would naturally  be crushing to the young athletes who have spent years training for the world’s most prestigious sporting event, the officials say, but more  important, perhaps, it would also prevent  Japan from recouping what remaining revenue there might be from domestic ticket sales, sponsorships and TV telecasts (IOC (which splits TV revenue with NBC), now that international spectators are out of the picture.  

It was money—NBC TV rights revenue—that forced the Olympics to be played in July and August in Tokyo, during what is quite often unbearable heat and humidity. And it is money that compels Japan to forge on with the Olympics to be held in the face of very unfavorable odds.

When Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga says, as he did 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 public is not buying it. A Kyodo news survey taken in January found that 80% of the Japanese people want the Olympic Games canceled or postponedA survey by Tokyo  Shoko Research the following month found that 56% of Japanese firms felt the same way.

Perhaps more than the pandemic and the distinct possibility of a super spreader event  was on their minds.

According to an Oxford University study, the Tokyo games will be the most expensive Summer Olympics ever mounted. Various estimates put figure may be closer to $30 billion when all the hidden costs are calculated and not the $16 billion the Japanese government is citing.

The Japanese  government will inevitably pass these costs on to the taxpayer. For a nation that is in debt to the tune of about 240% of the GDP, it might well be ruinous.

As we all  know, Tokyo successfully staged the 1964 Olympic Games, in what Life magazine called “the Greatest Olympic Games ever.” That event helped re-invent Japan as a global powerhouse, a status it has continued to cultivate.

However, it is worth being reminded that the Japanese government went into the red over those triumphant 1964 games. A  World Bank loan to finance the Shinkansen or Bullet Train, was not paid off until the 1990s and the government remains in the red to this day as a result. Given its already massive debt, reasonable people would argue, Japan should not be taking on any more. The increasingly expensive  2021 Games, plagued by Covid delays, will no doubt  sink the country  further and perhaps irrevocably into the red.

Unfortunately,  the  likelihood  of sanity prevailing and the Games being called off yet again, is not very high given the astronomical sums already spent on preparing for the Games. A postponement or cancellation would negatively impact big Olympic sponsors like  Coca-Cola, Visa and General Electric, not to mention NBC which paid a fortune for global television rights. Years of legal arguments would follow. Pandemics are almost never included in insurance policies.

Kansai University’s Miyamoto Katsuhiro estimated in 2020 that postponing the games for a year would cost 640 billion yen ($6.5 billion), while canceling the games entirely would cost about 4.5 trillion yen ($45 billion) due to lost revenue from international visitors and operating expenses.

It is estimated that over 9 million tickets were sold, a great portion of which would have to be refunded.


There are, of course, many, many  examples of controlled sporting events taking place around the world, with limited spectators, and it should be remembered that Japan does rank low on the global list of cases and deaths. In fact, Tokyo’s list of Covid-19 fatalities is  around one-eighteenth of New York City’s. Moreover there were fewer overall deaths in Japan in 2020 than there were in 2019.

In truth,  nobody  knows what will happen between now and  the Opening Ceremony. The Covid-19 virus could completely disappear, or, conversely, it could just as well hit new highs and more  new variants could appear. It is quite possible for Tokyo to become a  giant petri dish of corona viruses. You will see jubilant Japanese fans parading in the Ginza after a gold medal victory by a Japanese athlete or team, masks askew, hugging each other,  toasting each other in bars, social distancing be damned. Olympic athletes will  inevitably escape their bubble join in and head for Tokyo’s night time center of Roppongi and then take the Corona virus variant back home with them.  

The could be history’s  first Super-Spreader Olympics and Olympic deaths from mutant viruses may rise to tsunami death levels.

The risk is there. The Japan medical system would collapse if hordes of uninsured people from abroad catch mutant viruses in Japan.


Let a word to the wise be sufficient.  

It is time to cancel the Olympics.


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