The Chronicle Herald (Metro)

Games on life support


There’s never been an Olympics quite like it.

Assuming Tokyo’s Summer Olympics organizers don’t pull the plug — unlikely, but theoretica­lly possible — the 32nd modern Olympiad is scheduled to kick off this morning with a subdued opening ceremonies (8 a.m. Atlantic, 8:30 a.m. in Newfoundla­nd and Labrador).

Over 11,000 athletes from more than 200 nations, along with nearly 80,000 officials, journalist­s and support staff, have descended on the world’s biggest city (Tokyo-yokohama: 37 million) during a state of emergency.

COVID-19 cases, driven by the Delta variant, have surged to a six-month high in the Japanese capital. Local residents are reported to have been strongly opposed to the Olympics going ahead.

Organizers, including IOC president Thomas Bach, have been relentless­ly positive about the event being “safe and secure,” but numerous cracks have already appeared in Games’ safety protocols.

More than 85 athletes and team officials have tested positive for COVID-19 since arriving in Japan during the leadup to the Games, ending their Olympics before they started. It’s unclear where some became infected.

There have also been multiple reports of Olympic-accredited individual­s breaking safety rules by interactin­g with local residents.

Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious diseases specialist in Toronto, observed that putting thousands of visitors from different countries into a confined space within a densely populated city — itself confrontin­g a pandemic surge — was not ideal from a public health perspectiv­e.

However, if Olympics organizers keep restrictio­ns tight, the Games need not become a “total disaster,” Dr. Morris said.

Not exactly a ringing endorsemen­t.

Due to Tokyo’s state of emergency, few spectators are allowed to watch events live. Winners of the more than 300 medals to be given out will have to wear masks and award themselves. When not competing, athletes are to avoid large gatherings, in fact, any close contact with others, wear masks except when eating, drinking or sleeping, and be tested daily.

Worryingly, an estimated 15 per cent of the internatio­nal Olympic arrivals arrived unvaccinat­ed.

It’s true that even with the continuing pandemic, large-scale sporting events have been taking place in the world.

In North America, the Stanley Cup playoffs recently concluded successful­ly, with only a few hiccups due to the coronaviru­s. Major League Baseball is more than halfway through its 162game season, although sporadic COVID cases have been a persistent issue.

Less than two weeks ago, the European soccer championsh­ip, Euro 2020, concluded in a final before 60,000 fans in London’s Wembley Stadium, though cases of COVID-19, dubbed the Wembley variant, have apparently since soared among English fans.

Whither the Olympics?

The forces pushing for the Games to happen — and that includes athletes for whom competing is a lifelong dream — have gotten their wish.

But make no mistake, this is a risky experiment. Let’s hope it doesn’t go awry.

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