Japanese public health experts are similarly united in opposing the Games. Haruo Ozaki, chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association, said, “It is extremely difficult to hold the Games without increasing infections, both within and outside Japan.” Kentaro Iwata, an infectious-disease specialist at Kobe University Hospital, was blunter: “How the hell can you speak of a sports event gathering so many spectators, staff, volunteers, nurses and doctors? Who could enjoy the Games in this situation?”
The response of Olympic power brokers? Platitudes and hygiene theater.
“The Japanese people have demonstrated their perseverance throughout their history, and it’s only because of this ability of the Japanese people to overcome adversity that these Olympic Games under these very difficult circumstances are possible,” the I.O.C president said in a statement. The 78,000 Olympic volunteers are reportedly being allotted a handful of cloth masks, some sanitizer and social-distancing slogans.
Last month, Olympic organizers issued guidelines designed to mitigate the dangers of Covid-19. All participants must register two negative tests before departing for Japan and will be tested daily on arrival. They are urged to refrain from using public transport and to order takeout meals rather than dine in restaurants. But athletes are not required to quarantine, nor must they be vaccinated. Overseas spectators are not allowed to attend; nevertheless, tens of thousands of people will enter Japan for the Games.
In theory, the I.O.C., local Olympic organizers and the Japanese government — which has shoveled billions in public funds to stage the Games — consult with each other on decisions like cancellation and postponement. But an addendum to the Olympic host city contract states that the I.O.C. is ultimately responsible for decisions when it comes to making “a significant change in the overall scope of the Games.”
The I.O.C. often trumpets its “athletes first” approach, insisting that input from Olympians is key to the Tokyo 2020 decision-making process. But high-profile athletes, including the Japanese tennis phenom Naomi Osaka, are wondering aloud whether the Games should proceed. The most recent Tokyo 2020 “playbook” for athletes and officials can’t possibly assuage athletes’ stress; it states, “despite all the care taken, risks and impacts may not be fully eliminated, and therefore you agree to attend the Olympic and Paralympic Games at your own risk.” That sounds more like a Covid-19 waiver than “athletes first.”
Olympic officials often profess the Games are about much more than sport. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that some things — camaraderie, family, friends, public health — matter more than money. The I.O.C. has been slow to realize this, but there is still time to do the right thing.
The I.O.C. oversees the most pervasive yet least accountable sport infrastructure in the world. The group appears to have fallen under the spell of its own congenital impunity. Pressing ahead with the Olympics risks drinking poison to quench our thirst for sport. The possibility of a superspreader catastrophe is not worth it for an optional sporting spectacle. It’s time to cancel the Tokyo Olympics.
Jules Boykoff (@JulesBoykoff) is a professor of political science at Pacific University and the author of “NOlympians” and “Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics.”
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].