Tokyo Olympics 2020 began on Friday (July 23) with a subdued opening ceremony – in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic. Japan’s has dared to hold the Games, reminding many of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which was held 19 years after the island nation’s devastating defeat in the Second World War.
Roy Tomizawa, who documented the 1964 Olympics in a book released recently, said the Games then symbolised the “reemergence of an innovative country that was showing off bullet trains, miniature transistor radios, and a restored reputation”.
Tomizawa told Associated Press (AP) that he would call Tokyo Olympics 1964 as the “Inclusion Games”, while calling the attempt this time “the Exclusion Games”. Tomizawa, however, said this Games too might turn “Inclusion Games” though the challenge is tough.
Holding the Summer Olympics means a lot for Japan. The last decade has been a tough one for the country with financial difficulties, a tsunami and a nuclear disaster pulling it down. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is keen to turn it around and show the world that Japan is back in business as a developed economy. Also, Suga wants to send a message to China, its regional rival, that Japan is capable of doing the unthinkable. Tokyo Olympics success will be a direct challenge to China, which is due to hold the Winter Olympics next year.
Also, delaying the Games – which were supposed to be held in 2020 – any further may prove financially disastrous. Japan’s Olympics Committee has put the cost now at $15.4 billion. Not holding it now or postponing it further would mean the money, and the country’s reputation goes down the drain.
The International Olympics Committee (IOC) has put in $1.5 billion – in cash and kind. About $3 billion revenue is likely to come from broadcasts rights.
Japan’s confidence rides on the support from IOC. Fortunately, IOC president Thomas Bach put his weight behind Japan when he recently said that there was “zero risk” of athletes transmitting the virus to each other or locals.
The situation this time is indeed different from what it was 57 years ago. The public opposition to holding the Games is widespread over the health challenges it may pose along with pressing questions like “who benefits from staging the Games?”
As on Wednesday, the number of Olympics-related COVID cases stood at 75. It won’t be a surprise if cases rise further.
“Organising an Olympics and Paralympics during this pandemic is like Simone Biles executing a Yurchenko Double Pike, a vault so difficult no other female gymnast wants to do it. Biles can. Maybe Japan can, too,” Tomizawa told AP.
Tomizawa wrote in his book titled, 1964 The Greatest Year in the History of Japan: How the Tokyo Olympics Symbolized Japans Miraculous Rise from the Ashes, that the Games then will be remembered for “operational excellence”, which convinced doubters about the country’s capabilities. Tomizawa told AP that the organisers of Tokyo Olympics this time will need that resilience, adding that in any case holding Games under these trying circumstances is no mean achievement.
Bringing athletes from around the world to compete in Japan will be a monumental task.