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What was supposed to be a four-week assessment turned into something closer to four hours, but the International Olympic Committee has at long last made the decision to “postpone” the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
A joint statement from IOC chief Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe read in part, “In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”
Then, full of their trademark sanctimony and self-importance, the official IOC statement said, “The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present.”
That it took this long to utter “postponement” is a mark of shame for the International Olympic Committee. That it took an upsurge of athletes and national federations to compel them to finally act also speaks volumes. If the IOC actually cared about the health and well-being of athletes, they would have postponed the Games several weeks ago and served as a “beacon” of responsibility to the sports world and the real world about the seriousness of Covid-19. This would have been a statement that the coronavirus crisis transcends athlete health—it’s about global health. Instead, they twiddled their thumbs, trembling at the thought of walking away from both their contractual obligations and billions in broadcasting and sponsorship money.
Then again, if the IOC actually cared about the health and well-being of athletes, the Games would not be in Tokyo to begin with; several events were scheduled for Fukushima, the site of a nuclear meltdown in 2011. These Olympics were supposed to be billed as the “Recovery Games,” a testament to the cleanup of Fukushima and the return of Japan as a global destination spot. The reality, as we witnessed firsthand last summer, is very different.
Now, Thomas Bach and Shinzo Abe have pledged to stage the Games in Tokyo in 2021, keep the flame lit in Tokyo for one more year, and, in bizarrely dictatorial fashion, they will brand these Olympics forevermore as Tokyo 2020, no matter the year in which they are to take place.
If the way five-ring power-brokers have handled the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has taught us anything, it’s that the IOC lacks true oversight. It is a behemoth that barges its way into the host city and makes massive demands. When it wants to make a change—such as relocating the Tokyo 2020 marathon to the city of Sapporo—it snaps its fingers like a well-practiced autocrat and imposes its will. Local officials, even powerful ones, are forced to bow to the IOC’s whims. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said after the IOC moved the marathon to Sapporo, “We cannot agree with the final decision, but the IOC has the authority to change” the location. The IOC holds the cards.
The Olympics have hit a reckoning point. In the coming year, the global community should assess whether the Games, as currently constituted, should even have a place in our modern sporting life. In the best of times, they bring debt, displacement, environmental hardships, and hyper-militarization. Just ask Tokyo, where costs have skyrocketed from $7.3 billion at the bid stage to around four times that amount, according to a governmental audit in Japan. Just ask the women from the Kasumigaoka apartment complex who were displaced by both the 1964 and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Just ask the people of Fukushima Prefecture who witnessed resources’ being diverted from their recovery effort to Tokyo in order to prepare for the Games. Just ask everyday people in Japan who must be wondering whether the facial recognition systems that are to be featured at every Olympic venue will be turned on them for everyday surveillance and social control in the wake of the Games.
In a world shaped by Covid-19, the Olympics mark a shocking waste of resources in the name of nationalistic fervor at precisely the time in human history when we need to be both conserving these resources and imploring countries to work together in order to contain and weather the hardships of the present and the hardships to come. That it took all these weeks and a rebellion for the IOC and Shinzo Abe to act gives the game away. The Olympics are not for us. They are designed to feed a bloated global security state that in a sane world should be heading toward obsolescence.