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Postponed Olympic games will be unpredictable

I’m writing this column two days before the Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to officially begin. I have no idea what’s going to happen between now and the time this column gets printed in the paper. Things could go surprisingly smoothly or the games could be completely canceled.

It’s anybody’s guess!

Usually, I enjoy watching the Olympics (both the summer and winter versions, though I prefer more of the summer sports). It’s fun to see the best of the best athletes from all around the world competing against each other. World records are often broken. Amazing feats of athleticism are achieved. Sometimes we even get to learn the inspiring stories that led the competitors to this grand stage. For a few weeks, we all get together and cheer each other on.

It’s like getting to watch the latest season of a television show, except that the storylines are much more unpredictable and feature plenty of new characters each time.

My personal favorite part of the Olympics, however, is usually the opening ceremonies and the “Parade of Nations.” I enjoy the spectacle of the performances, getting to know more about the host country. And I also just like to see all the countries walk side-by-side with each other in a show of good sportsmanship.

But my enthusiasm for my favorite sporting event has been dampened this year. The pandemic has affected every part of our daily lives, and the Olympics is not immune either. They were actually supposed to be held last year, remember? This year was supposed to be the grand return to normal… except that COVID-19 is still causing problems all around the world and vaccination levels—one of the best defenses against the virus—are still lower than they should be. (As of early July, less than 15 percent of Japan’s population, the host country itself, had been vaccinated.)

So maybe gathering a ton of people from literally all around the world while a mutating virus is still around might not be the best idea. These Olympics could take the gold in superspreading. Even a week before the opening ceremony kick-off, at least one person tested positive for COVID-19 in the Olympic Village itself, which hosts the 11,000+ athletes along with journalists, officials, and other staff.

Plenty of pandemic precautions are already in place, such as barring spectators from attending Tokyo-based events in person… essentially making all the construction on some nice new stadiums a waste. The medal ceremonies will also be contactless, with winners grabbing their gold from a tray instead of from a person. Other precautions, of course, include wearing masks, undergoing regular screenings for COVID-19, and social distancing.

Safety measures for the pandemic have already forced one American athlete planning to compete in the Paralympics to withdraw before the competition even begins. Becca Meyers, a deaf and blind swimmer, isn’t allowed to bring her personal care assistant (her mother) with her to the games because of restrictions on the amount of people allowed with each country’s delegation. The US Paralympics swim team will only have one personal care assistant, but as Meyers points out, there are 34 athletes on the swim team and nearly a third are visually impaired like she is.

Even though lowering the amount of people will lessen potential virus infections, this sounds like the assistant will be spread pretty thin, probably to the detriment of the athletes who need the assistance.

There has also been a lot of push back from worried people in Japan who don’t think it’s a good idea to host the games this year at all. Those include many members of the Japanese medical community and even large national newspapers like the Asahi Shinbun.

According to reporting by the Associated Press, only the IOC has the authority to declare a cancellation. If Japan wants to cancel, they’d have to pay the IOC, meaning a loss of billions for the country. So they’re kind of stuck.

And not only are there virus concerns swirling around this year’s games, but also plenty of non-health-related controversies popping up even before the Olympics begin.

Several swimmers from Poland are angry that they won’t get to compete this time due to a qualifying error. The team sent 23 swimmers all the way to Tokyo before being told there were six too many. Sounds like there was a big miscommunication error somewhere along the way.

Earlier this week, the Japanese musician who composed some music for the opening ceremonies submitted his resignation after old interviews resurfaced. In those interviews, Keigo Oyamada (also known by his stage name Cornelius) admitted he bullied several classmates with disabilities “without any regrets.” (I will refrain from sharing the details here but it was worse than your run-of-the-mill bullying.) There’s no word yet on how this will affect the opening ceremonies.

Due to the lack of popular support for the games, Toyota announced this week that they’re pulling their Olympics-related TV commercials airing in Japan. The company is one of the games’ biggest sponsors. But despite the pulled ads, Toyota has still provided over 3,300 vehicles to transport athletes and staff.

And I’m not even going to talk about the silliness of the Olympic Village providing cardboard beds for people…

And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s a pretty strong heat wave hitting Tokyo this week!

Overall, it’s clearly a complicated situation. No one wants to cancel an event of this magnitude, especially after so much investment was put into it, both for the organizers and the athletes who’ve trained hard for this moment. But on the other hand, is the risk of increasing COVID-19 infections really worth it? Especially because the long-term effects of the virus are still unknown, and there is potential for new strains to keep developing the longer the pandemic goes on.

I’ll probably still tune in to watch some of the Olympics this year. If it was a fictional television event, I’d really enjoy watching how unpredictable things will be. But this is real life with real people involved. So I hope safety will be a priority for everyone involved.

Recently, I saw a few comments from ESPN reporter Mina Kimes who suggested that we stop moving the games around each time and just pick one place to host the event. I’m beginning to think that might not be such a bad idea logistically, especially if more unprecedented world-changing events keep happening in the future.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.