Despite several roadblocks that occurred along the way — including a worldwide pandemic — the Olympic Games are finally making a grand return in Japan’s capital city. However, the Tokyo Olympic Games may look a little different from those of past years, due to ongoing restrictions surrounding COVID-19. Though the Olympics represent unity and consistency among international communities, this year’s Games won’t come without their fair share of controversy.
What Safety Measures Are Being Taken?
If you planned on visiting Tokyo to watch the games in person, you’re fresh out of luck: Japan’s borders are currently closed to foreigners, with little to no exceptions. Though Japanese fans were originally allowed to attend the events in-person, a recent spike in COVID cases has resulted in the cancellation of any and all fan attendance. This change will mark the first Olympic Games to be held without any spectators, which will make for a completely new experience for fans watching from home.
Even if there won’t be any fans attending the Olympics this year, heavy restrictions will also be placed on athletes. According to several news sources, Olympic athletes traveling into Japan are also subject to some pretty rigorous safety protocols. In order to compete, every athlete is required to allow GPS devices to track their location to ensure they’re staying within designated safe spots. It has also been reported that athletes are required to download multiple COVID-related apps onto their smartphones, actively practice social distancing, report any travel plans to organizers, and refrain from using Tokyo’s public transit system for fourteen days upon arriving in Japan.
Athletes are expected to follow these rules, with no exceptions. With such strict guidelines in place, failure to adhere to the protocols can result in some pretty tough consequences. Those who don’t follow the rules will receive a warning, and repeat offenders may risk expulsion from the games entirely. The Japanese government officials overseeing the games also have the power to deport any foreigners who don’t follow their guidelines, adding an extra bit of pressure to athletes from visiting countries.
How Have Japanese People Reacted to the Games?
Though the return of the Games signifies a return to normalcy for some, others have expressed concern and anger over the choice to bring them back in 2021. If you look online, it seems like lots of international communities are excited to compete — but some Japanese citizens have said that hosting the Olympic Games this year is too much, too soon. Some Japanese content creators have told media outlets that they think Japan isn’t ready to host such a large event. According to them, a majority of Japan’s population has yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and COVID-related deaths within Tokyo are still prevalent. With that in mind, hosting an event with athletes from two hundred different countries is incredibly risky for the general public, and could even become a superspreader event if not handled carefully. As a result, Japan will be in a renewed state of emergency from July 12th to August 22nd — the length of the entire Olympic Games.
With these circumstances in mind, it comes as no surprise that most Japanese citizens aren’t too keen about hosting the Olympics during this time: a poll conducted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper showed that a whopping 83% of participants didn’t want the Olympics to be held at all due to Japan’s longstanding issues with the pandemic.
How Have Organizers Felt About Holding the Games?
On the other hand, Olympic organizers have told news sources that hosting this year’s Games is more important than ever; the president of Tokyo’s organization committee thinks that the event is imperative to lifting spirits and providing the world with some much-needed positivity. Additionally, Japan’s history with the Games has also created an additional sense of pressure for facilitators: with the 1940 Tokyo Olympics being postponed and relocated due to wartime, it’s likely that the organizers of this year’s Games aren’t willing to repeat history.
With that being said, you probably won’t find any anti-Olympic protesters in the venue this year: though the Olympic Games have always been apolitical, this year’s extraordinary circumstances have made the IOC’s rules against political statements all the more controversial. Alongside Japanese protesters, international athletes have also been instructed not to wear garments that endorse or oppose any political agendas.
A (Very) Brief History of Sports in Japan
Though Western sports only took off after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, native Japanese sports have been a vital part of the nation’s culture for centuries. The most recognizable among foreigners may be sumo, a martial art form that is recognized as the national sport of Japan.
Before the start of the Edo period in the early seventeenth century, sumo wrestling was known to be associated not only with sportsmanship and strength, but with Shintoism and divination. Competitors who won sumo matches were thought to bring about good fortune based on their occupations outside the sport. Martial arts, similar to the ones we know today, also gained traction prior to the Edo period.
With the push of American visitors, the Meiji Restoration introduced lots of new sports from the West to Japanese audiences. By the early 20th century, sports like rugby, baseball, track and field, and football were practiced nationwide as recreational activities. Though Western sports play a role in how the country spends its free time, the Olympic Games haven’t neglected Japan’s roots; judo has been recognized as an official Olympic sport since the 1960s, allowing Japanese martial arts to be practiced and celebrated on an international scale.
Despite this year’s Olympic Games being undeniably controversial, it goes without saying that the world is anxious to get one of its most cherished and consistent events back into action after such a long period of uncertainty. Though we know we can safely indulge in the Games by watching them from home, weighing the risks and rewards of this cherished event has become more important than ever.