We are certainly in a time full of unprecedented events in sports. The Olympic Games have only been canceled three times since the modern games began in 1896, once during World War I and twice during World War II. This is, however, the first time in Olympic history that the games have been postponed.
In the past, even in times of great tragedy, the festivities have carried on. In 1968, the Mexico City Olympics continued despite the Tlatelolco massacre that left hundreds of unarmed protestors dead in the streets of the nation’s capital. Four years later, at the infamous Munich games, 11 Israeli coaches and athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists. Most recently, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a bomb left two dead and dozens injured. In the wake of tragedy, the Olympic Games have always carried on, uniting and empowering their grieving community.
In the case of COVID-19, sports cannot be considered a coping mechanism. The virus, which thrives in large social gatherings and with unnecessary travel, would wreak havoc on the millions of people that pour into Tokyo from across the world.
The games, originally scheduled to take place from July 24 until August 9 of 2020, are now set to begin on July 23, 2021 and run until August 8. The Paralympic games (originally scheduled during the summer of 2021) are also shifting accordingly and will now run from August 24 until Sept. 5, 2021.
Tokyo, a modernized and industrious city, would have been one of the rare economies able to profit from the games. It was projected that the economic impact of the games for Japan would be approximately $297 billion (32 trillion yen). The costs of a postponement obviously throw a wrench in that forecast. Katsuhiro Miyamoto, a professor emeritus of economics at Kansai University, estimates the postponement will cost an additional $6 billion, after Japan already spent $26 billion. These costs result from a variety of factors, including stadium maintenance, equipment storage and restarting advertisement campaigns. This need for funding is especially problematic amid the economic consequences of the virus, which is estimated to cause a $9- to $18-billion decrease in tax revenue.
The expected revenue stream and the extreme consequences of postponement was likely why Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration were so resistant to a postponement. It is also widely believed that Abe in particular had a strong political impetus for the games to continue. The games, which were first brought to Tokyo in 1964 by Abe’s own grandfather, were set to be the pinnacle of his career.
Many believe this immense incentive to still hold the games this summer led to questionable COVID-19 reactionary measures. Japanese citizens interviewed by ABC News believe that Japan intentionally reported lower numbers of coronavirus cases in the hopes of continuing the Olympics on time. According to Johns Hopkins University, Japan had 1,140 cases of coronavirus on March 24, the day it was announced that the Olympics were being moved to next year. In less than two weeks, the count had risen to 5,500 and deaths in the country had tripled.
The possible mishandling of COVID-19 is fuel for the widespread criticism of Abe and his administration among Japanese citizens, who feel the government is out of touch with its citizens. “The Japanese ruling elite form a class of their own, out of touch with the reality of the daily life and concern of the people. They are preoccupied with the Olympics and have prioritized the resume of what remains of Abenomics over serious countermeasures against the spread of the virus,” said Koichi Nakano to ABC News, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.
In this time of great uncertainty, Japan must remain impartial and informed about the feasibility of hosting the Olympics next year. Abe and his administration must appropriately protect the millions of people involved in the Olympic proceedings, which include not only athletes and Olympic officials, but also the millions of fans and volunteers who would come from all over the world to attend. Without proper testing and preventative measures, the 2021 Tokyo Olympics could serve as another epicenter in this horrific pandemic.