THE OLYMPIC Games are a magical tradition that delight billions every four years.
Most of our readers will think back to London 2012 – though mistakenly dubbed the high point of modern Britain by many a centrist pundit, even the most ardent hermit will admit the Games changed the nation – for a fortnight, at least.
But Tokyo 2020 – pretending the past 18 months didn’t happen, supposedly – is a different ball game altogether.
As the pandemic picked up pace and Japan saw another Covid wave blighting the nation, public support for hosting the Games waned.
But still, despite public outcry, the Olympics were waved through.
Last month, it was announced that – for the first time ever – the Olympics will be held with no spectators.
It’s a shell of a Games.
Because it’s not the fans or the public that Tokyo’s Olympic Committee care about – it’s the money, of course.
This Games is already the most expensive Summer Olympics in history, with over $15.4billion spent so far. This is set to rise to over $20billion, according to estimates.
With ticketing revenues already at zero, local sponsorship was always going to evaporate if the Games were cancelled. Figures show that, at $3.3billion, sponsorship revenue makes up over half of the organising committee’s (original) budget.
There’s also the notion of saving face. Had the Games been cancelled, Tokyo would have had to go through the laborious bidding process again, perhaps waiting decades for the chance to host.
But with hundreds or potentially thousands of lives on the line – caused by increased cases and international arrivals from athletes, media and sponsors at a time when Japan is struggling, the correct decision would have been to cut the losses and call it a day. Tokyo won’t so much save face by continuing to host the games as be lamented historically for its stubbornness. Even athletes testing positive in their dozens has changed nothing.
Historically, the Games have never been a sustainable economic boost to any host – far from it.
Billions are spent building state-of-the-art stadiums and Olympic villages, with host cities often struggling to make use of them after the fortnight-long Games.
There have been some successes, but as seen in the likes of Rio in Brazil – where favelas were cleared to make way for stadiums – it’s the poor that get hit hardest.
Other sports have managed admirably during the pandemic. Football, painfully, was without fans in Britain from June 2020 up until May this year. But the patience paid off, with 60,000 able to attend the Euro 2020 Final.
It got there by adapting to case numbers in the country and limiting international travel for teams. Tokyo should have done the same.
Crucially, they didn’t. And spectacular as the Opening Ceremony was, the fact that there were no fans in the stands to see it – and with many athletes staying away too – is the defining image of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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