The Guardian view on the Tokyo Olympics: in Japan, but not for Japan
After a year and a half of the pandemic, the world is short of causes for① celebration. Diversion,② spectacle and surprise may never have been more welcome. Despite their muted atmosphere, the Olympics and Paralympics are likely to ③raise spirits internationally, with viewers cheering on ④extraordinary feats of human achievement.
More than 80% of the Japanese public wanted the Games put back another year or cancelled outright. The country’s chief medical adviser said holding it in these conditions was “not normal”, and the emperor voiced concern. Official sponsors dodged the opening ceremony. Many feel that this is an event forced upon Japan in service of the International Olympic Committee’s prestige and commercial interests.
Friday’s opening ceremony, watched in person by fewer than 1,000 grandees – and greeted by a street ①protest – was billed as a “sobering” evening rather than the usual flamboyant gala. Stadiums will be mostly empty throughout, with almost no ②spectators at most events to reduce the risk of ③superspreading incidents (like the thousands of cases associated with the Euros). Some competitors were forced to pull out after becoming ④infected before they could travel.
It is to be hoped that, with events now under way, the Japanese public may at least find some pleasure and satisfaction in watching – ①albeit from home – the extraordinary performances of their athletes and others. The excitement that often steals up as the Olympics begin may lift spirits, and the ②impact upon Covid rates could in the end be low if people behave responsibly. But there is no question that ③proceeding was, and is, a huge gamble. Organizers and participants must behave impeccably to ensure that the ④reluctant hosts do not pay too high a cost.