At first, the headline looked like something out of The Onion. Florida has thrown its hat into the ring to host the postponed 2020 Olympic Games that are due to take place in Tokyo this summer. Since 80 percent of Japan’s residents believe that hosting a super-spreader event in the middle of a pandemic might not be the best use of resources or worth the risk, Florida’s Trumpist state government is putting its foot forward, even if that foot is sinking into the Atlantic Ocean because of global warming.
The state’s chief financial officer, the cinematically named Jimmy Patronis, sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee stating,“Today, I am writing to encourage you to consider relocating the 2021 Olympics from Tokyo, Japan to the United States of America, and more specifically to Florida.” Patronis, per his custom, kissed the behind of his Trumpist governor Ron DeSantis for his “handling” of the pandemic, writing, “When most of the major states were shutting down their economies, we were fortunate enough to have a Governor that recognized the important balance of fighting the virus with keeping the economy open.”
This is, of course, a lie. DeSantis’s “handling” of the pandemic has been a disaster. Even with his efforts to keep the deleterious health effects a secret, we know that Florida has reported more than 25,500 deaths and 1.67 million coronavirus cases. That’s collectively the fourth-most of any US state.
Patronis even included his phone number on the public letter as a way to encourage the global super-spreader to come to his state. Florida’s efforts have gained so much immediate traction that the media asked Joe Biden’s spokesperson, Jen Psaki, about the possibility. She referred people to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee. The latter reiterated its support for Tokyo, which brands Patronis’s ploy as a rogue stunt, seemingly designed to burnish the reputation of the state and kiss his boss’s behind, more than a serious effort.
But let’s take it seriously for a moment and just consider what it would mean for Florida to host the Olympics. This is a state that has been run into the ground by DeSantis, with spiraling Covid rates, massive tax giveaways for the rich, persistent poverty, and police violence. Florida, for all the ostentatious wealth of some of its residents, is one of the poorest states in the country, with 7 percent of its population living on less than $10,000 a year. Now imagine the Olympics coming to town amid this level of crisis. It’s a recipe for dystopia. When one considers the debt, displacement, and hyper-militarization—“protecting” rich from poor—that the Olympics bring, one is tempted to argue that Florida’s masses won’t be able to tell the difference from a typical day under DeSantis’s thumb. But, as the Olympics have shown, it can always get worse, and “worse” is something Florida cannot afford.
Meanwhile, at a press conference following a meeting of the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board this week, a reporter raised this rakish notion of Florida stepping in to pinch-hit for Tokyo. IOC President Thomas Bach brushed off the absurd ploy and made it clear that the plan was to ram ahead with the Games in Tokyo, telling reporters that the IOC is “fully concentrated and committed” to staging the Games in Tokyo this summer. But we will see.
The aforementioned polls in Japan showing that 80 percent of the population do not want to host the Olympics this summer are no accident. In recent weeks, coronavirus rates have spiked. After dragging its feet and getting slammed by the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun for its “slow and tepid” response, the government finally placed Tokyo under an official state of emergency.
In Japan, the medical system is already being pushed to the max. Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, told reporters that the current hospital occupancy rates in the country meant it would be “impossible” to admit any international visitors who attended the Tokyo Games and contracted the coronavirus.
Nakagawa is not alone. Numerous medical professionals in Japan are wondering aloud why Tokyo needs to host an optional sporting event with the coronavirus on the rise. “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?” asked Kentaro Iwata, an infectious-diseases specialist based at Kobe University in Japan. Iwata added, “Do you have to risk that? Risk by holding the Olympic Games? I don’t think so.”
Japan has suffered an upsurge in coronavirus infections, but it is nothing compared to what Floridians are experiencing. Since the pandemic began, the entire country of Japan has had just over 371,000 cases. Florida alone has detected almost 1.7 million infections since March. To offer Florida as an Olympic host is to proffer the ludicrous.
The suggestion by Florida’s chief financial officer that the Olympics be transferred to the Sunshine State is certainly worthy of a jokey headline conjured by the minds at the The Onion. But hosting the Olympics is no joke for everyday people, even under non-Covid conditions. Enough is enough. In the name of global public health, it’s time to cancel the “2020” Summer Games. Amid a raging pandemic, which has already killed more than 2 million people around the globe, pressing ahead with the Olympics is beyond quixotic. It’s a slow-motion train wreck, and one that could be avoided with the sensible stroke of a pen.