“For the first time since the pandemic began, the entire world came together,” Thomas Bach said at the largely empty National Stadium in Tokyo. “Billions of people around the globe were united by emotion, sharing moments of joy and inspiration. This gives us hope.”
Indeed, for those who followed the Games on television, bereft of spectators the dazzling displays of sportsmanship did offer diversion from the tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic – including from the accounts of panic in the host city’s hospitals as resurgence in infections resulted in bed shortages.
Now with the Olympic flame doused, the cameras turned off and the last remaining athletes headed home, it is the Japanese public that is left weighing the costs and the benefits of the IOC’s decision to push ahead with the Summer Games during the pandemic.
Analysts say there is little reason to celebrate. They say the Olympics has only worsened Japan’s COVID-19 outbreak and left its taxpayers saddled with a $15bn bill, even as the IOC raked in billions from broadcasting rights.
“There have been no benefits whatsoever for everyday working people in Japan,” said Jules Boykoff, a former Olympic-level athlete and a professor of political science at the Pacific University in the United States. “The IOC decided to gamble with their health in order to stage an Olympics that would financially benefit the IOC.”
Since the Olympics began on July 23, some 170,000 people in Japan have contracted COVID-19, according to official figures. At least 178 have died. Tokyo – which is under a state of emergency until the end of August – is logging record numbers of cases, with new infections reaching a pandemic high of 5,042 on Thursday.
Japan’s total caseload has now crossed one million, while a total of 15,309 people have died. These figures are low compared with those seen in most countries around the world but with Japanese hospitals on the brink and only a quarter of the Japanese public vaccinated, experts fear the number of infections and deaths could rise dramatically. Calls are also growing for a nationwide state of emergency as well as constitutional changes to allow authorities to implement the kind of hard lockdowns seen elsewhere in the world.
The IOC denies any link between the Olympics and Japan’s coronavirus surge.
The group said on Saturday that its regimen of daily tests for athletes as well as a “bubble system” that separated those accredited to the Olympics from the wider Japanese public had prevented transmission between the two groups. It said it has logged a total of 430 positive cases since July 1, having carried out more than 630,000 screening tests. (Al Jazeera)