The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are scheduled to take place this July and August — yeah, sports dates are just like that now, don’t get me started about the 2020 Copa Del Rey final — and the coronavirus pandemic isn’t looking likely to be over then, which has some people wondering if this is really such a great idea:
“Do you have to risk that? Risk by holding the Olympic Games? I don’t think so,” Kentaro Iwata, a prominent infectious diseases expert from Kobe University told Reuters.
“We are facing far more danger than last year, so why do you have to hold the Olympic Games, cancelled last year due to risk of infections, this year?”
And it’s not just public health experts: London’s former Olympic chief says Tokyo should be “making plans for a cancellation,” and more than 80% of Japanese residents say the Olympics won’t be able to be held as scheduled. (The poll just asked if the Games “can” be held, seemingly conflating the questions of whether they should or will be held, though maybe there’s some nuance that was lost in translation to English.) A final decision must be made by mid-March, and given the current spread of more highly transmissible forms of the virus plus the slow rollout of vaccines, it seems pretty unlikely that athletes from all over the world will be able to gather safely in Tokyo this summer.
The main reason not to cancel — other than that athletes have been training for this their whole lives, but that was the case during World War II as well — is the $15 billion that the Japanese government has already spent on staging the Olympics. That’s a sunk cost, though, and Japan isn’t getting any of that money back even if the Olympics are held this summer. While spending $15 billion on an event that never happens would be a bitter pill to swallow, spending even more on staging an event that could bring even more added costs from a renewed wave of virus spread — not to mention additional deaths — would be throwing good money after bad.
The next step would be addressing that bad spending in the first place, which seems to be starting to happen, anyway. Maybe a canceled 2020 Games would accelerate discussions of whether the current Olympic model is worth pursuing at all? Probably not, but it’s nice to dream.