Not everyone is enthused about the biggest sporting event of the world, due in a couple of months in Tokyo. Less than a fortnight ago, Roger Federer spoke about the uncertainty looming over the Olympics, saying ‘athletes need a firm decision’ and that he is in two minds about the event. There are two diametrically opposite voices emerging from Japan. As the coronavirus pandemic rages across the island nation, a BBC report stated that only 1.9% of the population has been fully vaccinated while COVID-19 infections and current deaths stand at over 7,00,000 and 12,000, respectively. Hospitals are overwhelmed and fully aware of that grim context; a majority of Japanese citizens emphasised that the Olympics should either be postponed or cancelled while their collective voice found resonance through opinion polls. As a counter, local officials and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) held firm that the Games will be conducted from July 23 to August 8. The quadrennial showpiece championship originally slated for 2020 was postponed by a year during the first wave of the pandemic, and organisers believe that an event with a staggering $15.4 billion budget cannot afford another reworking of the dates.
The Olympics has always been about striving for the impossible as evident in its motto — faster, higher, stronger — which defined the Games ever since its modern version commenced at Athens in 1896. It braved past the gaps caused by the World Wars as the 1916, 1940 and 1944 events were shelved and also coped with the Cold War years when the Western and Eastern blocs took turns to boycott the 1980 and 1984 Games. But the pandemic is a bigger obstacle even while vaccination drives continue at varied speeds. People do yearn for normalcy and sport offers that illusory thrill of everything being fine with the world. Seen through that prism, the Olympics is the highest benchmark. European football, international cricket and Grand Slam tennis have all resurfaced while following COVID-19 protocols. But there are no fool-proof measures as the latest truncated Indian Premier League edition clearly revealed. Despite best practices and bio-bubbles, sportspeople are vulnerable to the virus and the Olympics with an expected attendance of 11,091 athletes, can be a logistical nightmare. The IOC is walking on the razor’s edge in its bid to conduct the Olympics in a reluctant nation, where even an event partner, Asahi Shimbun daily, sought the cancellation of the Games citing the strain on the health sector. So far, the most pessimistic of the experts have been the ones being proved right.