July 21, 2021 TOKYO (AP) — Over and over, year after year, the stewards of the Olympics say it: The Games aren’t supposed to be political. But how do you avoid politics when you’re trying to pull off an event of this complexity during a lethal and protracted pandemic?
— The Japanese medical community largely opposes these Olympics; the government’s main medical adviser, Dr. Shigeru Omi, has said it’s “abnormal” to hold them during a pandemic.
— Medical journals The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine has raised questions about the risks, with the former criticizing the World Health Organization for not taking a clear stand and the latter saying the IOC’s decision to proceed “is not informed by the best scientific evidence.”
— The second-largest selling newspaper in Japan, the Asahi Shimbun, has called for the Olympics to be canceled. So have other regional newspapers.
— There’s the risk of the Olympics spreading variant strains, particularly after two members of the Ugandan delegation were detected with the delta variant.
Still, they are going ahead; the opening ceremony is Friday. So how have the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga been able to surmount strong opposition?
At the core: the “host city contract” that gives the IOC sole authority to cancel. If Japan cancels, it would have to compensate the IOC. And there are billions at stake. Japan has officially spent $15.4 billion but government audits suggest it’s twice that much. Japanese advertising giant Dentsu Inc., a key player in landing the corruption-tainted bid in 2013, has raised more than $3 billion from local sponsors.
Estimates suggest a cancellation — highly unlikely at this point, less than 48 hours before the opening — could cost the IOC up to $4 billion in broadcast rights income. Broadcasting and sponsors account for 91% of the IOC income, and American network NBCUniversal provides about 40% of the IOC’s total income.
The Associated Press sought perspectives from inside and outside Japan on the politics of putting this on.
“It’s a bit like a gambler who already has lost too much. Pulling out of it now will only confirm the huge losses made, but carrying on you can still cling to the hope of winning big and taking it all back. (Suga) might as well take the chance and hope for the best by going ahead with it. At least there is some chance that he can claim the games to be a success — just by doing it — and saturating the media with pride and glory might help him turn the negative opinion around.”