Olympics throughout pandemic

With just 53 days to go for the biggest festival of youth and sport, the Olympic Games in Tokyo, several parts of Japan are being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Several cities and regions of the country, including Tokyo, have been in a state of emergency for weeks, and it has been extended to June 20. Less than 5 per cent of the country’s population has been given Covid-19 vaccine shots — the lowest vaccination rate among the world’s rich countries. The clamour to call off the Olympics has been growing stronger, with a new survey showing that 83 per cent of the respondents want them to be either cancelled or postponed — up from 69 per cent in April. Associations of physicians have issued a stern warning that the event — during which thousands of athletes, delegates and media from across the world would land in Japan — could turn into a superspreader. There’s the worry that Covid-19 variants could wreak havoc in the densely-populated country.

In this backdrop, the insistence of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the idea of calling off the Olympics is ‘off the table’ is intriguing, to say the least. The cost-benefit analysis of the Olympic Games has a benefit that is completely irresistible — money. The Olympics are the cash cow of IOC, which is sitting on an estimated reserve of $1 billion. The biggest chunk of IOC’s profits comes from broadcaster fees, which account for roughly 75 per cent of the revenues. Another 18 per cent revenues come from corporate partners. It’s big money. To put it crudely, IOC is prioritising money over the safety of athletes and Japan’s population, ignoring public opinion.

The Japanese government too does not want to cancel or postpone the event — it has already spent over $15.4 billion to organise the Olympics, and a cancellation would mean a dead loss of this sum. Also, cancellation would lead to a loss of face for a country that prides itself on its efficiency. In all such debates, the human cost is often ignored — the pain of the dead and the dying, and of the ones left behind. If the money involved were small, cancelling the Olympics would have been a no-brainer. However, the government and the organisers must note this — if the Games are held and there is a steep rise in infections, the economic loss could be greater.  

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