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Tokyo Tries to Host the Olympics and Avoid Pandemic Disaster



Tokyo Tries to Host the Olympics and Avoid Pandemic Disaster


The Olympics and COVID-19 were never going to be compatible. The cardinal rule when it comes to controlling an infectious disease is to limit the contact people have with one another. Yet the very essence of the two weeks of competition, which begin on July 23 in Tokyo, is to invite the world to meet, greet and engage in friendly—and often socially not so distant—contests.

An estimated 70,000 athletes, coaches, staff, officials and media will be descending on Tokyo from July to August for the Olympic and Paralympic Games—at a time when infections in the city are rising again. On July 8, the government declared a fourth COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo, which will extend through the end of the Games.

New cases of COVID-19 emerging from any of the Olympic visitors could not only disrupt the Games but also forever tarnish this year’s Olympics as an exercise in folly amid a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of 4 million people. “The worst thing that would happen is that the Olympics becomes a super-spreading event that goes around the world,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, who has advised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese health officials on COVID-19 countermeasures.

Olympic organizers are working desperately to prevent that from happening. After consulting with infectious-disease experts from across the globe, Tokyo 2020 officials have created a playbook of guidelines for everyone who will be traveling to Japan for the Olympics. Many of the measures are familiar and proven from the experience of the past year: frequent testing, mask mandates, social-distancing procedures and creating as much of an isolation bubble for Olympic participants as possible.

The strategy is also realistic. While it might not be possible to prevent the virus from infiltrating the Olympic community, the countermeasures are meant to contain it as much as possible. Infections will happen. The challenge lies in minimizing the risk of those infections and the impact they might have—on not just the Games but also the Japanese public and, ultimately, the world at large when Olympic delegations return home. “We have to closely watch how the situation evolves before and during the Games,” says Hidemasa Nakamura, the Tokyo Olympic official most deeply involved in coordinating and executing COVID-19 safety measures during the Games. “In that sense, I feel that the Olympics and Paralympics are a microcosm of the world.”

The 2020 Tokyo Games were delayed a year in the hopes that the COVID-19 pandemic would be under control by now. As the Japanese government and the IOC forge ahead with plans to hold the world’s largest sporting event even as infections simmer globally, anti-Olympics sentiment has reached a peak in Japan—with just 14% of Japanese polled in May saying they wanted the Games to proceed as scheduled. One of the country’s physicians’ organizations, the Japan Doctors Union, and a leading newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, argue that the risk is not acceptable. An online campaign called Stop Tokyo Olympics has amassed nearly 450,000 signatures so far from around the country. The pushback goes beyond the usual reluctance that citizens of host countries typically express before any Olympics. Public anxiety and medical mandates are clashing with economic pressures and political forces in a showdown that, for now, is tipping in favor of the financial and political interests to go ahead with the Games. “Japan’s government has been saying that it is seeking ways to balance the economy and enforcement of COVID-19 countermeasures, but I think its priority has been the economy,” says Kenji Utsunomiya, a former chair of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and the founder of the Stop Tokyo Olympics campaign.

Some public-health officials warn of unknowns that could unravel even the best-laid plans. Fewer than 15% of the Japanese population are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and new variants of the virus, which spread more quickly, threaten to dismantle any sense of immune security that the countermeasures are designed to establish. “The challenge here is this is an international event where people are coming from all over the world, and you obviously can’t bubble the world and keep the virus from spreading,” says Osterholm.

The danger of convening thousands during a pandemic is very real. On July 3, a Serbian rower tested positive when he arrived at the Tokyo airport and was immediately isolated; he and his teammates were prevented from traveling to their training site. A Ugandan coach, among the first Olympic teams to fly in, also tested positive at the airport, on June 19, and was isolated, despite two negative tests within four days of his flight. The rest of his delegation was allowed to quarantine at their Osaka training site where another member tested positive. Such cases will likely occur with increasing frequency as more teams arrive, and only highlight the knife’s edge on which the Olympics will play out. On the one hand, SARS-CoV-2 continues to run rampant around the world and could find fertile ground in the congregation of international visitors. On the other, expected vaccination rates of around 80% for participants and strict countermeasures could rescue the Games by containing cases and preventing them from flaring up into major outbreaks.

Athletes have been warned that their Olympic experience will be like no other—their chances for interacting with athletes from other countries will be severely restricted (condoms, normally a cornerstone of Olympic Village perks, won’t be distributed until athletes are checking out, and alcohol won’t be served in dining halls). They will be required to wear masks except when they are competing or eating; they will be tested daily, and if they test positive, they will be isolated and likely not allowed to compete. They also won’t be able to enjoy one of the hallmark benefits of being an Olympian: roaming the different venues and sitting in the stands to check out unfamiliar sports or cheer on teammates.

Athletes will also be missing their family support structure. In March, the Tokyo Organising Committee banned international fans, including families of athletes, from attending the Games. And with less than a month to go before the opening ceremony, officials announced July 8 that they would also ban Japanese fans from attending Tokyo-based events amid a fresh surge in COVID-19 cases—reversing an earlier decision to allow tens of thousands of local spectators.

Nearly 450,000 people signed an online petition to cancel the Games.

Nearly 450,000 people signed an online petition to cancel the Games.

Carl Court—Getty Images

IOC President Thomas Bach has promised that the Tokyo Games will be “safe” from COVID-19. But the reality is there can be no truly “safe” Olympics, only a “safer” one. Experts agree there are no zero-risk scenarios. Yet the actual risk—to athletes, Japanese citizens and the rest of the world—has never been properly calculated or communicated. “As far as I know, there is no risk-assessment report or result,” says Hitoshi Oshitani, the virologist who helped devise Japan’s COVID-19 strategy. “So we do not have any concrete material to judge if the risk is acceptable for Japan and for other countries.” He argues that only after such an evaluation can a decision be made about whether it’s safe to hold the Games. Instead, Tokyo Olympics organizers and Japanese health officials have focused on detection and containment to make it harder for the virus to spread among the Olympic community—and if it does, to pick up cases before they spark clusters or even outbreaks that could spill over into the local population.

Any athlete, coach or trainer who tests positive will be immediately placed into isolation in a designated area in the Olympic Village clinic. Patients who develop symptoms and require longer quarantine will move to a hotel dedicated to COVID-19 cases. And for people who need more intensive medical care, up to 30 hospitals across Tokyo stand ready to accept Olympic participants. However, a spokesperson at St. Luke’s International Hospital, which is listed as the medical center assigned to care for the athletes, says while it has been approached to coordinate care, as of late June, “there has been no progress since.”

Some public-health experts say the greatest danger of spread, however, may come from the tens of thousands of Japanese citizens who will be watching the events as spectators. That risk is amplified by the increasing prevalence of the Delta variant—which Japanese health experts predict could account for half of new infections in the country by mid-July—because it’s considerably more contagious and can potentially cause more severe disease than earlier forms of the virus.

To minimize that threat, Olympic organizers are enforcing stricter testing and quarantine requirements for athletes and team staff arriving from more than a dozen countries where the Delta variant is dominant, like India, the U.K. and Malaysia.

While such testing should pick up most cases of COVID-19 quickly, experience from other large sports events over the past year, including the U.S.’s NBA and NFL and the most recent Euro soccer tournament, shows testing won’t be enough. “From a public-health perspective, we are building countermeasures based on things we know work in reducing coronavirus infections,” says Brian McCloskey, who oversaw public-health services for the London 2012 Olympics and who now chairs the expert panel advising the IOC on COVID-19. “Things like social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing masks are things we know make a difference in reducing spread of the virus.”

Still, even with such carefully planned prevention strategies, viruses have a habit of upending the best-laid plans, and SARS-CoV-2 is no exception. “It would be foolish with this virus to discount the possibility of clusters of cases,” says McCloskey. “We learned last year that the virus has a huge capacity to surprise from time to time.” Disruptions in team lineups, and athletes’ ability to compete, could plague the Olympics even if athletes abide by the rules. But Nakamura believes organizers have strong policies in place to minimize such occurrences, noting they have “established rules so that we can trace the virus if a participant gets infected. I believe such regulations play a role in preventing the Games from becoming a superspreader event.”

Convincing the public and the Japanese medical community of that remains one of the organizers’ biggest challenges. Nakamura says the IOC has tried to avoid putting any extra burden on the Tokyo health care system by not sending Olympic participants to local testing centers or clinics. But to do that, the IOC has requested 200 local doctors and 500 nurses to staff Olympic-based sites, which the chairman of a group representing more than 100,000 doctors and dentists in Japan said in May was “almost impossible.” Fewer than 30% of health care workers in Tokyo are vaccinated, meaning they might pass along new infections to their families and communities if they were to get infected through their Olympic work.

It’s no surprise, then, that health care workers aren’t jumping at the chance to volunteer for the Games. One 47-year-old nurse (who asked not to be named) changed her mind about volunteering for the Olympics because of her family’s fears that she might get infected and endanger the health of her husband and four children, since she is not vaccinated. She realizes there are good policies in place to control COVID-19, but says people who aren’t in the medical field “have an image that the Olympics imposes more risk than daily life.” That could explain the recent wave of 10,000 volunteers who also decided not to participate, with many citing COVID-19 worries in local media. While Japanese athletes are vaccinated, in part using shots donated by Pfizer-BioNTech, volunteers have not been offered the same protection.

Such inequity has been a recurring theme in the public perspective of the Olympics—a sense that, driven by economic rather than public-health priorities, the Olympic community arriving from abroad is being favored over Japanese citizens. “The government of Japan should have aimed to have the majority of its people vaccinated at least by the end of March this year if it sought to be fully prepared to host the Games,” says Utsunomiya, citing one reason he started the petition to cancel the Olympics. “Our campaign reflects the voices of people who have been struggling with the pandemic situation. It is only natural that people are not in a mood to welcome the Games and be festive.”

Whether those feelings change once the competition begins will largely depend on how well participants comply with the testing protocols and movement restrictions. “No matter how well the playbooks are designed, whether people abide by the rule is a different story,” says Dr. Nobuhiko Okabe, who chairs a panel of independent experts that has been advising the Japanese government on ways control COVID-19 during the Games. If they violate those rules, athletes can be fined, pulled from competing or deported. And presumably, even without these punitive measures, athletes are motivated to follow the rules so they don’t get infected and jeopardize years of training. That’s what Olympic organizers—and the people of Japan—are counting on. But the reality is that no one can predict what will happen during the three weeks the world’s attention is trained on Tokyo. “In past history, nobody had an Olympics during a pandemic, so we don’t know what will happen,” says Oshitani. “That’s the big challenge for everyone.”

With reporting by Mayako Shibata/Tokyo and Leslie Dickstein

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Singapore Eliminated from AFF Suzuki Cup After Loss to Indonesia



Singapore Eliminated from AFF Suzuki Cup After Loss to Indonesia
Singapore's Nur Adam Abdullah slides in to stop the ball from getting to Indonesia's Asnawi Mangkualam during their sides' AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 semi-final second leg match at the National Stadium in Singapore on Dec 25, 2021. (Photo: CNA/Matthew Mohan)

On the pitch at the National Stadium on Saturday (Dec 25), they fought like lions.

Backs against the wall, in the face of several questionable refereeing decisions, Singapore stared into the abyss of a loss.

Yet they battled – clearing shots off the line, defending stoutly, throwing bodies around.

Then came heartbreak in extra time, courtesy of two Indonesian goals, which meant that Tatsuma Yoshida’s side were eliminated from the AFF Suzuki Cup on Saturday (Dec 25) after a 4-2 loss to Indonesia in the second leg of the semi-final.

Extra-time strikes from Irfan Jaya via a Shawal Anuar touch and Egy Maulana Vikri gave the away side a 5-3 aggregate victory and ensured that the search for the Lions’ first Suzuki Cup title since 2012 would go on.

Showing “Singapore spirit” was how Yoshida described his team’s performance after the game.

“They showed the best performance since I came to Singapore … I feel happy working with my boys and I am proud of all of them,” he said.

“I was moved by their fighting spirit, their Singapore spirit and they didn’t give up.”

The Lions’ first leg match on Wednesday had ended 1-1 as an Ikhsan Fandi equaliser pegged back the Indonesians.

However, with Yoshida making several changes, Ikhsan started the game on the bench, with a different-looking Singapore side for the second leg.

In his place was Geylang International striker Amy Recha, making his first Singapore start. Faris Ramli was also dropped to the bench, with Hafiz Nor starting for the Lions.

It was the Indonesians who took the lead in the 11th minute, as a Hassan Sunny pass was intercepted by Witan. He brushed off two defenders and found Ezra Walian for the opener.

Four minutes later, they almost doubled their lead but Pratama Arhan could only curl his effort over.

Singapore struggled to find their foot in the game, with a series of misplaced passes handing the momentum to the ever-pressing Indonesia team on a number of occasions.

The Lions’ best chance came courtesy of a lung-busting run from Song Ui-young, who found Hafiz Nor, but his shot was parried wide.

Amy Recha then looked to have been brought down in the box when he was about to latch onto the rebound but vehement appeals from Singapore were waved away.

Then came a flashpoint. Defender Safuwan Baharudin, who was shown a soft yellow card earlier by referee Qasim Matar Ali Al Hatmi, was booked again and sent off after a tussle in the box before a corner kick was taken.

But the Lions held their nerve and drew level, with Song firing home in the first half added time to the delight of Singapore fans.

Indonesia piled on the pressure in the second half and had a shot rebound off the bar in the 59th minute.

Yoshida threw caution to the wind with a triple substitution, bringing on Ikhsan, Faris and Shawal Anuar.

And it was Shawal who almost made an instant impact a minute after coming on, but his dipping shot drifted just wide.

Singapore defender Irfan Fandi received his marching orders in the 67th minute, after he hauled down Irfan Jaya as he ran towards goal. The referee deemed him to have denied the forward a clear goalscoring opportunity.

But shortly after, Singapore midfielder Shahdan thought he had turned game winner as he curled a gorgeous free kick past the Indonesian keeper to put nine-man Singapore ahead.

But Indonesia were not done yet, and they grabbed an equaliser with four minutes to spare, courtesy of Pratama.

With the game on the line, Faris had the chance to seal a famous win, but his penalty was pushed away by Indonesian keeper Nadeo Winata.

Then came the clincher for the Indonesians with just a minute played in extra time. As Irfan Jaya tried to force the ball across the line, it inadvertently rebounded off Shawal into goal.

Indonesia almost extended their lead on several occasions, if not for the excellent work of Singapore keeper Hassan Sunny, who was one of the many players who were immense for the Lions.

Substitute Egy then doubled the Indonesians’ lead just before the end of the first half of extra time to seal the victory.

Hassan received his marching orders with time ticking down as the Lions went down to eight men.

Speaking after the match, Yoshida said: “The referee is the referee. (If) they say (it’s a) foul, it’s a foul. (If) they say (it’s a) red card, (it’s a) red card.

“We have to accept it, it’s football.”

And it is Yoshida’s hope that the fans will believe in the team, and the players in themselves.

“I always tell the boys, my staff. You must believe (in) yourself. You can do it … Singapore fans I hope, I want them to support the boys and Singapore football.”

Despite the loss, the crowd’s appreciation for the crestfallen team at the full-time whistle said it all.

Singapore may have fallen to a defeat, but on a pulsating Christmas night at the National Stadium, they roared. CNA

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Motor racing-Mercedes to leave Formula E after 2022



Motor racing-Mercedes to leave Formula E after 2022

Formula E champions Mercedes will withdraw from the all-electric series at the end of the Gen2 era in 2022 to concentrate on Formula One, the carmaker said on Wednesday.

The announcement comes three days after Dutch driver Nyck de Vries won the Formula E world championship title after finishing eighth in the season’s final race in Berlin, with Mercedes also winning the teams’ title after Stoffel Vandoorne’s third place.

“Mercedes-Benz today announced that it will conclude its ABB FIA Formula E success story as a team entrant and manufacturer at the end of Season 8, in August 2022,” the manufacturer said in a statement

“Moving forward, the company will concentrate its works motorsport activities on Formula 1, reinforcing the sport’s status as the fastest laboratory for developing and proving sustainable and scalable future performance technologies.”

In December, German manufacturers Audi and BMW confirmed they would exit Formula E at the end of this year.

Mercedes announced a new strategic direction for its brand in July, with the aim of going all-electric by the end of the decade.

“As part of the new strategic direction, the brand has deliberately chosen to shift resources for this accelerated ramp-up of electrification, including the development of three electric-only architectures to be launched in 2025,” the carmaker said.

“Therefore, Mercedes will reallocate resource away from its ABB FIA Formula E World Championship programme and towards applying the lessons learned in competition to product development in series.” REUTERS

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Tokyo Hands Olympic Baton to Beijing but Virus and Boycott Calls Weigh



Tokyo Hands Olympic Baton to Beijing but Virus and Boycott Calls Weigh
Journalists watch a light show at the National Ski Jumping Center for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, in northern China’s Hebei province, in July. | AFP-JIJI
The focus immediately shifts to Beijing as the curtain falls on the Tokyo Olympics, with a growing coronavirus outbreak in China and boycott calls looming large just six months from the start of the Winter Games.
The Beijing 2022 Olympics are scheduled to take place from February 4 to 20, when the Chinese capital will become the first city to host a Winter and Summer Games.
New venues have been constructed and some from Beijing 2008, including the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium, are being spruced up as China attempts to show the world its best face. The 2022 Games will be spread over three main zones Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, which is about 180 kilometers (110 miles) northwest of the capital.
A high-speed train will connect the three hubs. All competition venues were completed several months ago and the Chinese government has been keen to assert that preparations have successfully ploughed on despite the coronavirus pandemic.
But just as Beijing 2022 swings into view, China is now facing its largest virus outbreak in months, even if infection numbers are still low compared with many other countries. Another headache for the Beijing Olympics and China’s ruling Communist Party is sustained calls from activists, the Uyghur diaspora and some Western politicians for a boycott over the country’s rights record, especially the fate of Muslim minorities.
China, where Covid-19 emerged towards the end of 2019, already had some of the world’s strictest containment measures and is ramping them up further in the capital. People flying into China from abroad must quarantine for between two and three weeks in a hotel, and it is unclear if the thousands of athletes, team officials, media and others coming to the Games will have to do likewise.
Tokyo model?
Bo Li, assistant professor of sports management at Miami University in Ohio, said Beijing 2022 organizers should take their cue from Tokyo in handling the virus threat. There were concerns there would be mass infections among participants in Japan but while there have been cases, the worst fears have not materialized.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and local organizers insisted on testing everyone involved before and regularly during the Games, and keeping athletes away from the public. Spectators have also been barred from most events at Tokyo 2020 it is unclear whether Beijing 2022 will follow suit. “Overall the strategy that has been used by Tokyo has been pretty successful and I think Beijing will duplicate something very similar,” said Bo Li, adding that he was “curious” about what China would do with its current strict quarantine procedures.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the athletes to arrive in Beijing (at least) two weeks in advance and to be quarantined,” he said. “From the financial point of view, who would pay the bill? The organizing committee? The IOC? “The preparation of the athletes would be greatly affected, it would be unacceptable to most of them.”
Unanswered questions
The United States says Beijing is carrying out a genocide against Uyghurs in the region of Xinjiang and experts estimate more than one million people have been incarcerated in detention camps. Beijing denies genocide and has described the camps as vocational training centers.
Yaqiu Wang, a New-York based China researcher for Human Rights Watch, stopped short of calling for a full boycott: “Athletes have been preparing their whole lives to have this moment, so taking that moment away is wrong. “Athletes can still go, but sponsors, international dignitaries, celebrities, we think they should not go to lend legitimacy to the Chinese government hosting the Games.”
Mark Dreyer, a China sports analyst, said that many questions remain unanswered about the Winter Games, even with fewer than 200 days to go.
“Ticketing plans haven’t been released. And do we know about spectators? It’s looking likely there are not going be international spectators allowed, but what about domestic spectators?” asked Beijing-based Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website.
“All this sort of stuff, normally it takes years to plan and there are still test events supposedly happening between now and the Games. “Will those happen? Will they provide us any additional information in terms of how China plans to run the real thing?”- AFP

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American Nelly Korda wins gold in women’s golf as Japan’s Mone Inami takes silver



American Nelly Korda wins gold in women’s golf as Japan’s Mone Inami takes silver
Nelly Korda of the U.S. watches her drive from the 8th tee during her final round of the Olympic women's golf tournament. | AFP-JIJI

Japan’s Mone Inami came up a stroke short in her bid to win gold on home soil, finishing a shot back of world No. 1 Nelly Korda of the U.S. in the final round of the women’s golf tournament on Saturday at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

Inami defeated New Zealand’s Lydia Ko in a playoff to claim silver.

Inami fired a stellar six-under 65 in the final round to put herself in contention, but Korda, the overnight leader, was steady throughout and finished with a 69 in her final round. Inami wavered on the final hole, coming home with a bogey to end on 16-under. Korda, playing in the group behind her, made par to secure the gold medal at 17-under.

In the playoff, Inami made par on the 18th hole and watched as Ko’s par save slipped just past the hole.

India’s Aditi Ashok, the world No. 200, was a surprise fourth-place finisher.

Mone Inami of Japan during her final round at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture | REUTERS
Mone Inami of Japan during her final round at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture | REUTERS

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The ‘Nolympians’ giving the IOC a run for its money



The ‘Nolympians’ giving the IOC a run for its money
Japanese have been lukewarm about the pandemic-hit Tokyo Games, holding demonstrations during the event itself. The black-shirted protester’s placard reads ‘Anti-Olympics’ [Kantaro Komiya/AP Photo]

Long before Tokyo 2020 was saddled with cost overruns, scandals over sexism and fears it would turn into a COVID-19 super-spreader event, anti-Olympics activists were already calling the whole thing a disaster.

That was why one year before the pandemic-hit Games were originally slated to open in late July 2020, anti-Olympic activists convened in Japan for the first ever global summit of “NOlympians”, as those opposed to the Games are known.

The pow-wow of NOlympians signalled that once ad hoc localised opposition to Olympic events had gone global.

“We shouldn’t see the anti-[Olympics] movements [as] being isolated and divided according to nations and cities,” said Hiroki Ogasawara, a professor in sociology and cultural studies at Japan’s Kobe University, “because the protest is already worldwide and the Olympics inevitably involve global scale wrongdoings, too.”

Dozens of activists from host cities past (London, Rio de Janeiro and Pyeongchang, South Korea) and future (Paris and Los Angeles) were joined in the Japanese capital by those bracing for a bid by their cities, including Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

“That was a pivotal moment,” Jules Boykoff, a participant and professor of politics and government at Pacific University in Oregon in the United States told Al Jazeera. What Boykoff previously called “a moment of movements” had blossomed into a transnational coalition with staying power.

Boykoff, an Olympian turned critic, says that because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is “a multibillion-dollar behemoth” those opposed to it have realised, “the only way to fight is to become more mobile with their dissent”.

Japan has held four Olympic events in 50 years, the most of any Asian country despite strong opposition because of the cost and their social and environmental impacts [File: Robert F Butaky/AP Photo]

Founded in 1894, the IOC is a non-profit that serves as the governing body of Olympics committees in each of its member countries with a mission to distribute the billions in revenue from broadcasting and marketing to sports development. Its executive board is formed of members drawn from the global business elite.

‘Olympic Disasters’

In Asia, Japan has hosted the most Olympic events – the Games that kicked off on July 23 were its fourth in 50 years.

While the 1964 Games have generally been portrayed positively – a showcase of the technological prowess and design brilliance of post-war Japan and its debut on the world stage – not everyone holds such a rosy view of later Olympics.

Of the two main anti-Games groups spawned by Tokyo 2020, one is called Okotowa Link, which means “Olympic Disasters”.

The Japanese activists had a litany of concerns concerning the event from the demolition of affordable housing to the removal of street sleepers and the transformation of the world-famous Tsukiji fish market into a parking lot for the National Stadium.

In an era where activism is increasingly global and finding momentum online – from the #MeToo movement to Fridays for Future and Black Lives Matter – it is hard to recall the days when grassroots organising spread one leaflet at a time.

That was how Helen Jefferson Lenskyj and her fellow activists at Bread Not Circuses got their start in the late 1980s when Toronto vied first for the 1996 Games and then for the 2008 event. While her city’s repeated bids called for a sustained campaign, Lenskyj notes how the anti-Olympics movement has since grown.

“It’s definitely gathered strength,” said Lenskyj, now professor emerita of social justice education at the University of Toronto. “With social media and more effective use of the internet, the growing problem of huge debts and expensive venues, the legacy that never materialised, there’s growing disillusionment.”

The Canadian anti-Games activists were the first to launch the Poverty Olympics Torch Relay, in which the torch is fashioned from a toilet plunger. And an annual NOlympics day was marked every late June to galvanise opposition worldwide.

There were protests against the Summer Games when they were held in Greece in 2004 with demonstrators concerned about security measures [File: Louisa Gouliamaki/EPA]

The Games’ human costs, including the massive disruption to the lives of residents and heightened police surveillance, stand in stark contrast with the corporate interests of the Olympics boosters. Typically, they are the business and political elites who have the most to gain from brand sponsorships, white-elephant building projects and lucrative service contracts.

“I call this trickle-up economics,” said Boykoff. “It’s a massive economic juggernaut; the sports are incidental.”

‘Soft power’

Over the past few years, citizens have become increasingly resistant to hosting the sporting extravaganza, with some Western countries putting the decision to voters in a referendum.

One by one, potential bid cities have been eliminated by “no” votes from Boston in the US to Krakow in Poland.

In 2015, in the leadup to the IOC awarding the 2022 Winter Games, only two candidate cities were left standing: Almaty and Beijing.

Authoritarian countries have long seen the Games as a form of “soft power”, while the IOC has sought to frame the event as a force for good that transcends politics.

In 2001, when Beijing was awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics despite concerns over China’s human rights record, the IOC claimed hosting would help usher in an era of greater freedom.

Seven years later, artist Ai Weiwei, the man who had helped design the centrepiece Bird’s Nest stadium, was persecuted by authorities for his political activism, and Beijing won its bid for the 2022 Winter Games three weeks after a nationwide round-up of human rights lawyers and their staff.

With less than seven months to go, Beijing’s mass imprisonment of Uighur Muslims and its crackdown in Hong Kong are fuelling calls from Europe and North America for a boycott.

Meanwhile, the dwindling number of cities prepared to bid for the event has spurred the IOC to act. Its Agenda 2020 called for transparency, sustainability and flexibility. Critics, however, say the organisation is incapable of genuine reform.

“The IOC has a democratic deficit,” said Boykoff, adding that it was ruled “with an iron fist.”

China celebrates being awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics, but there are calls for a boycott in response to the crackdowns in Xinjiang and Hong Kong [File: Ng Han Guan/AP Photo]

In response to the rising NOlympics backlash, the IOC has accelerated the process for naming host cities.

In an unprecedented move in 2017, it doled out a twin award to the remaining candidates: giving the 2024 Summer Games to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles.

And just before the Tokyo Olympics got under way, the IOC announced the host for 2032 – Brisbane in Australia, the only contender. Previously, the host city was selected only seven years before the Games were due to start.

For now, activists’ rallying cry of “NOlympics anywhere” may seem a long shot, but as the memory of two weeks of sporting spectacle begins to fade and Tokyo assesses the Games’ longer-term effect, it seems likely the rumblings of discontent that follow the IOC will only grow – as will the movement.

“The anti-Olympics campaign has a significant impact in raising local residents’ consciousness on what human rights will be violated and what they would have to suffer to have the Olympics,” Lenskyj said.

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Welcome to Tokyo’s five-ring Olympic circus



Welcome to Tokyo’s five-ring Olympic circus

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics have been plagued by defiled graves, bribes, lies, outbreaks of Covid-19, colossal mistakes and mysterious deaths.

At the massively expensive Olympic Stadium, when they light the Olympic flame on Friday night, reflect on one thing. The architects originally forgot to put a place for the stand in their designs, which wasn’t noticed until 2016.

Even the opening ceremonies have been a fiasco before they started. The original music composer had to resign after his history of gleefully torturing the disabled became an issue. The former comedian turned director of the pre-game show was fired because of his past Holocaust jokes.

There are reports that the new music will be provided by an ultra-nationalist composer who denies the existence of comfort women and the Nanjing Massacre. That may not go over well with Japan’s neighbors.

It seems like the games are cursed – and former Prime Minister Taro Aso has said so publicly. If something can go wrong it will. Is it supernatural bad luck or just the karma of the organizers?

At Asia Times we’ve decided to chronicle the series of unfortunate events that led us up to this day of days, not necessarily in chronological order, but in a way that you can meditate on the mandala of misfortune that is the Tokyo 2020 Five-Ring Circus. Can things get better?

Will the opening of the Olympics be prying open an already damaged Pandora’s Box or will it somehow release “fighting spirit” to save the day?

The Big Lie (2013)

Shortly, after taking office in 2012,  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his second time at bat, began pushing to have Tokyo host the 2020 Olympics.  Naoki Inose, the governor of Tokyo, had his back.

People protest against the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics on July 23 in Tokyo. Photo: AFP / David Mareuil / Anadolu Agency

At a September general meeting of the International Olympic Committee, Abe made a bold appeal to host the games. When concerns were raised about the Fukushima nuclear meltdown that had happened less than two years earlier, Abe confidently said, “Fukushima is under control.”

It wasn’t and it isn’t now. In two years, Japan will start dumping radioactive water that has been piling up on site into our oceans. The clean-up will take decades.

The bribes (2013)

It wasn’t until 2019, that it was reported that French prosecutors have investigated the head of the Japan Olympic Committee, for bribing former members of the IOC. At least two million dollars was allegedly spent buying off former IOC officials so that they lobbied African nations to vote for Japan’s 2013 Olympic bid.

Reuters later reports that even more millions were spent currying favor and paid out to a former executive of Dentsu, Japan’s incredibly powerful advertising agency.

Speaking of bribes, Tokyo Governor Inose, who helped secure the Olympics, was forced to step down after being accused of accepting a 50,000,000 yen ($450,000) contribution from a medical consortium.  Just like Abe, he wouldn’t survive in office long enough to boast about the success of the Games.

Skeletons in the closet (2013)

In November of 2019, it was finally reported that 187 human bodies had been excavated between 2013 and 2015 from the construction site of Tokyo’s new Olympic stadium. The bad news (and the bones) had been covered up for years.

Apparently, the Olympic organizers had built over an Edo era cemetery. Did anyone do the proper Buddhist rituals to quell the spirits of the dead? Nobody knows.

Shinzo Abe promised that the Fukushima nuclear accident was under control. Photo: AFP / Kunihiko Miura / The Yomiuri Shimbun

Like the movie Poltergeist, are the angry ghosts of the displaced now cursing the games? We know that many who were evicted from their apartments in the area to make room for the stadium are cursing the Games, but they’re still alive.

Plagiarism (2015)

The Olympic emblem created by an elite former advertising agency man turns out to be a rip-off of a Belgian theatre emblem. With much haste, a new Olympics emblem had to be resigned.

When the in-house newspaper of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan later did a parody of the emblem, which likened it to the Covid-19 virus structure, the Japan Olympic Committee forced them to pulp the magazines.

It’s a curse to have no sense of humor.

Back to the drawing board (2015)

In July, The Olympic Stadium plans of famous female architect, Zaha Adid, were rejected as the building costs ostensibly were out of control. In reality, it’s probably because the architect was not Japanese, and she was a woman. A famous Japanese male architect was chosen to do the design, which some have said, resembles a rip-off of Zaha Hadid’s design.

Everybody dies (2013-2021)

The architect Hadid did not take kindly to her design being rejected and went to court with the Japan Sports Council.  But while the courtroom battle was waging, she suddenly died in the spring of 2016.  Hers wasn’t the last death.

As the fever pace to complete the stadium mounted, in March of 2017,  a freshly hired construction company employee, 23, killed himself after mental and physical exhaustion in a horrifying case of “Karoshi” – death by overwork. He logged 190 hours of overtime in a 30-day period before his death.

Empty stands are seen behind the stage and the Tokyo 2020 emblem ahead of the opening ceremony. Photo: AFP / Franck Fife

In May of 2020, the 54-year old owner of a fried pork cutlets restaurant, who was scheduled to be one of the Olympic Torch Relay runners, torched himself to death. Due to Covid-19, the Olympics had been postponed, he had to close down his shop and was in deep despair.

In June of 2021, an accountant for the Japan Olympic Committee killed himself by jumping in front of a train on the Asakusa line. Did he know something about the bribes? People began asking, will the accounting ledgers for the Tokyo Olympics be burned, like they were for the Nagano Winter Olympics?

The Japanese media has politely not followed the story. The Japan Olympic Committee refuses to discuss it.

Smells worse than fishy (2017-2021)

In 2017, the swimming area set aside for the triathlon near Odaiba was found to be polluted with fecal matter and not safe to swim in. It turns out that in times of heavy rain, the sewage system overflows into the pool area. The problem is allegedly fixed but the New York Post and the Korean Press have been reporting, “The area smells like a sewer” – even now.

The coronavirus outbreak was a curse for the world, but the government of Japan, desperate to hold the Olympics, downplayed the virus, under-tested and was slow to take action. Even in early March of 2020, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, said, “It’s inconceivable that we don’t hold the Olympics this year.”

The day after the Olympics were postponed, the number of Covid-19 cases in Tokyo mysteriously surged and Koike discussed having a lockdown and the “Covid-19 infection explosion.”

Japan, eager to put on a good face and host the Games no matter what, has haphazardly handled the virus, which has resulted in more than 15,000 deaths now, the worst in East Asia.

In contrast, Korea has had a little over 2,000 deaths. Vietnam, which has a population of 95 million (Japan 126 million) has only  had 370 deaths.

Kyoko Ishikawa, who has attended every Summer Olympics in the past 30 years, expresses her gratitude as Japan’s Air Self Defense Force aerobatic team forms the Olympic rings in the skies over Tokyo on July 23. Photo: AFP / Yasuyoshi Chiba

Despite warnings, and even a scolding from the Emperor, the “safe and secure” Games are going forward, even while outbreaks continue in the Olympic Village and Tokyo hospital beds are now in short supply.

The army of the unlucky

It’s hard to keep track of all those involved in the Olympics who have been fired or forced to resign from their jobs since Japan won the bid, but here’s a partial list with their misdeeds. However, some of these unfortunate souls may still be haunting the Games.

Yoshiro Mori, former prime minister, head of the Tokyo Olympic Committee (sexist remarks)

Keigo Oyamada, original composer for the Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremonies (abusing disabled children in the past)

Shinzo Abe, now honorary advisor to the Olympics (resigned as PM ostensibly because of stomach problems, but was also under investigation for election law violations)

Hiroshi Sasaki, former Olympics creative director (planning an opening ceremony skit that would ridicule obese people)

Tsunekazu Takeda, former president of The Japan Olympic Committee (allegations of giving bribes and corruption)

Most expensive summer Games

The price of hosting the Olympics and Paralympics has astronomically increased from 734 billion yen ($6.67 billion) when the bid was made.  Last December, the  Japanese government estimated it will cost about $154 billion.

Olympic rowers train at Sea Forest Waterway, in Tokyo. Photo: AFP / Vladimir Pesnya / Sputnik

That’s a huge cost overrun. Part of the high costs might have come from a vice-president of the Japan Olympic Committee having reported ties to the largest yakuza group in Japan, but who really knows?

The cost to Japan’s public image from these mishandled Games is probably incalculable.

Too damn hot

Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote that “Hell is other people” and in a Covid-19 infested Tokyo, that rings truer than ever but it’s also true that Tokyo summers feel like being in an inferno.

If “Fukushima is under control” was the biggest lie told by Japan in this decade, the second can be found in Tokyo’s original bid for the 2020 Games. They claimed July 24 to August 9 is a great time for sports “With many days of mild and sunny weather, this period provides an ideal climate for athletes to perform at their best.”

Anyone who lives here knows this isn’t true. With a heat index of 101 degrees and thousands hospitalized with heat-stroke each summer, Tokyo summers are not ideal for anything. That’s why the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held in October.

By 2019, Tokyo had to sort of admit it had lied and began trying out a coating on the marathon roads to reduce the heat. In August, it was reported that it had a reverse effect, making the temperatures rise 2.6 degrees celsius at 150 centimeters above the ground, and increasing damage from UV rays. The IOC later ignored Tokyo Governor Koike and moved the marathon to northern Japan’s Sapporo City.

In these “cursed” Olympics,  athletes and participants face the double-threat of Covid-19 infections and/or heat-stroke.

Let the Games begin.

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