On July 22, Japan reported 1,979 new coronavirus cases. The city of Tokyo, with 1,300-odd cases, too had not seen so many new infections since January. Staying in Japan’s capital, select athletes from over 200 nations marched during the Opening Ceremony of the 32nd Summer Games. Therein lies the Olympics’ great challenge. At some level, this year’s Games feels like a science experiment—will the more than 70,000 people who have descended into Japan for the Games be able to safely perform their duties for the next two weeks? If the last week is any evidence to go by, the answer is in the negative.
Already more than a 100 Games-related staff (including a dozen or so athletes) have tested positive for Covid-19. It has dealt a big blow to the organisers’ belief that the Games Village—a sort of sanctum sanctorum during the duration of the Olympics—would be the safest place in Japan. As more and more athletes descend into Japan over the next few weeks, the organisers will be excused for forgetting to breathe every now and then. Having staked their reputation, the last thing all of them want is to see a cluster in the Village or any of the competition arenas.
This is also an important landmark for Japan. The Olympics was supposed to show the world that the nation had recovered from the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear disaster that claimed the lives of thousands at Fukushima in 2011. Now, Japan just wants to show the world how it can organise a Games while keeping its aged population safe from the travails of Covid-19. With a likely national election to follow the Games, it can ill-afford to get this wrong. Also spare a thought for the athletes. During earlier Olympics, marching in the Opening Ceremony was worth a memory for a few lifetimes. This time, athletes actively sought to avoid it as it could turn into a superspreader event. From Saturday, though, they will have to push worries of Covid-19 to the background as the world’s biggest sporting carnival begins in earnest. For everybody’s sake, let’s hope there is a Closing Ceremony.