Deferring Tokyo 2020 Olympics Due to COVID-19

김건희, 심민정l승인2020.05.11l수정2020.05.11 19:01l378호 1면

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  The 2020 Summer Olympic Games, which was scheduled to begin in Tokyo on July 24, have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it will be rescheduled to 2021. “Due to the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President and the Abe have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to after 2020, but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, personnel of the Olympic Games and the international community,” the IOC said in a statement released on March 24, 2020. It is the first time in their 124-year modern history that the Olympics have been delayed during peacetime.

  The Summer Olympics have been canceled only three times before — in 1916, 1940, and 1944 due to the outbreaks of World War I and II. The 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, went ahead, despite the outbreak of the mosquito borne Zika virus. Unlike the Zika virus, however, COVID-19 can be easily transmitted between humans. In addition, on March 11, the director general of the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic as infections spread from East Asia to the rest of the world, hitting areas like Europe and the United States the hardest. The number of infected people is also increasing in Japan. However, even though the Olympics have been delayed in anticipation of the situation getting under control soon, it has not been easy to develop a vaccine.

  The Olympics are not a small thing for Japan, both economically and symbolically. However, delaying the Olympics can cause more problems, including wiping away the potential revenue the host would earn this year. By some estimates, Japan had invested between 39 to 49 trillion won to build venues and expand their hotel capacity. As the Olympics is a sports competition, the use of stadiums is the biggest problem. A total of 43 stadiums are usually used as exhibition halls, but all reservations for events were cancelled due to the schedule changes.  With no firm dates yet in place, it is impossible to launch new sales for any of the events. The Tokyo Games were expected to attract around 10,000 athletes and 500,000 international visitors. Nearly 5.5 million tickets were already sold, including 4.48 million tickets for the Olympics and 970,000 tickets for the Paralympics. The organizing committee plans to guarantee the rights of buyers for next year. However, refunds are proving more complicated. There are also problems with apartment sales in athletes' villages, 110,000 registered volunteers and all the 2020 Olympic merchandise. Local businesses, both big and small, were expecting record profits this year. Now, they predict economic losses after suffering under a pandemic that has kept foreign tourists and locals at home.

  How are people reacting to the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics? The international community has said the Olympic should be put off or canceled. The United States and France have voiced strong opinions about the Olympic postponement. When the WHO declared COVID-19 an international pandemic, Donald Trump, president of the United States said, "It is not easy to host the Olympics without any spectators.", expressing his own opinion that it should be delayed for about a year. Denis Masseglia, president of the French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF) also said, "If COVID-19 is not under control by the end of May, it will be difficult to hold the Tokyo Olympics." The same went for the minister of physical education in the UK. He said, "The IOC is doing the right thing to seriously consider whether the Tokyo Olympics will be held or not. And above all, it is the most important thing for our athletes is to ensure their good health."

  Many Japanese agree that it would be impossible to push ahead with the Tokyo Olympics. According to an article on the games in Japan's largest news portal Yahoo, one citizen said, "Even if it is delayed for a year later, Japan's economy will be at its worst with COVID-19." and " Should the Olympics be held at a time when not only Japan, but also the global economy is at risk?"  According to a poll by Japan's Kyodo News held on March 16, 69.9% of people believed that the Tokyo Olympics should not be held as scheduled. This indicated that the Japanese acknowledge the possibility of delaying the Tokyo Olympics and believed it would be canceled. Since the postponement was confirmed, many people have expressed relief and hope that the COVID-19 will end soon.

  The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics has meant massive financial losses for Japan. Athletes are also being inconvenienced. However, since COVID-19 has spread all around the world, it is right to minimize contact between people and cancel the games. Fortunately, as many Japanese agree it is important to be cautious of COVID-19, they accepted the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics despite the huge economic losses their country will suffer. The Olympics games are important opportunities to promote cooperation between countries, but the safety of people should be prioritized. As Japan and the IOC have the most direct influence on the outcome of the Tokyo Olympics, it was time for them to make a wise decision.

▲ Cancellation of 2020 Tokyo Olympics (Photo from Zupzup)

김건희, 심민정  dankookherald@gmail.com
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