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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

This wasn’t such a good idea, but we knew that


What is the IOC and all the major Olympic sponsors going to do for Tokyo after these games are over?
Image: Getty Images

While we’ve all been distracted by watching Olympians from around the world set new records on the athletic field, COVID has been setting some records of its own.

For the second straight day, Tokyo, which has been hosting the Games under a state of emergency from the beginning, recorded a record number of cases. More than 5,000 new positive tests were recorded in Tokyo alone yesterday, after more than 4,000 the day before. As a country, Japan topped 15,000 new cases for the first time since COVID began. Ninety percent of the positive tests are attributable to the Delta Variant, and health officials are worried that Tokyo alone could see more than 10,000 new cases a day before it’s all over.

And then come the deaths.

A recent study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that COVID deaths follow the onset of symptoms by two to eight weeks, which means Japan, already seeing a massive strain on its medical system, will be in the thick of serious COVID illness and death just in time for the Paralympic Games starting on August 24. What Tokyo looks like by September is anyone’s guess, but none of the guesses are good.

And lest you fall for the IOC’s propaganda that the Olympic Village is a “bubble,” separate and apart from the rest of Tokyo, 353 people “associated” with the Games have tested positive since the Olympics began, including six Greek artistic swimmers who lived in the Village before they were moved to an isolation center. The Games’ “Official Positive Test List” shows not just athletes and officials who have come down with COVID, but volunteers and contractors, who likely live in Tokyo with their families. How many people did they come into contact with after contracting the virus but before being isolated? We’ll likely never know for sure.

Absolutely none of this should be surprising. The IOC’s attempt to hold the Games at the same time the Delta Variant began its sweep of the world was ludicrously naive at best, cynical and genocidal at worst. There was always too much money at stake for the Games to be postponed again, or outright cancelled. And the IOC has said that the amount of people contracting COVID at the games is within their expectations. They were always willing to sacrifice people for cash and the red carpet treatment the IOC members insist on receiving.

And look, after plenty of bitching about the Games happening at all on Twitter, I got as caught up in them as anyone else. In no small part, as my colleague Jane McManus pointed out, because the Olympic Games are one of the very few times we get to see women’s sports presented on the same footing with men’s. And you could be forgiven for tuning in all day, every day and hearing nothing about COVID ravaging Tokyo. NBC certainly made COVID easy to forget, outside of pointing out that athletes’ families and friends have been left back at home. And there’s been as much hugging, kissing, and hand-shaking as we saw in pre-COVID sports. It’s almost as if the Games are taking place in an alternate reality from the one the rest of the world is living in. Almost.

These Games are going to end, the Paralympics are going to come and go, and Japan is going to be left in crisis. We’ll likely never know to what extent the Games contributed to the spread in Tokyo, but history is going to judge these Olympics, and those that insisted they happen, harshly. In hindsight, the world sent more than 10,000 athletes to one of the most populous cities in the world during a virulent pandemic. A city that hovered around a 20 percent vaccination rate at the time the Games began. Some of those athletes come from countries with incredibly low vaccination rates themselves. Even if, by some act of God, the Games don’t turn out to be the global super-spreader event we fear they could be, there should be plenty of soul-searching on the part of everyone involved. But by now, we know better than to expect even an ounce of self-reflection on the part of the IOC.

It’s so easy, once the Games start, to lose yourself in the pageantry, the international goodwill, and the fantastical feats of the athletes themselves. The Olympics are in the business of making viewers forget about the displaced population, the white elephant stadiums and facilities, the promise of better infrastructure that never comes, the wasted millions, the militarization of the police just in time for the Games. This time around, it’s been easy to forget about the global pandemic that has killed more than 4 million people, globally, and sickened more than 200 million, too.

So my question is this: What is the IOC and all the major Olympic sponsors going to do for Tokyo after these games are over? Will VISA and NBC send funds to help combat rising hospitalizations? Will Uber Eats and McDonalds deliver, at no cost, to those quarantined inside their homes? Will Coca-Cola, GE, and Toyota, all Olympic “partners,” feel any responsibility for what the Games are leaving behind? Or will the people of Japan be left to fend for themselves once the IOC pulls up stakes and vacates their 5-star suites?

We know the answer. Just like we know these Games never should have happened in the first place.

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