• Dounia Said Bakar

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Did the economic benefits outweigh the health risks?

The Olympic torch relay began in Fukushima on March 24th, 2021 with Japanese soccer player, Azusa Iwashimizu being the first to bear the torch. The torch would later travel through Japan’s 47 prefectures and the opening ceremony was set to happen on July 23rd. At that time, Japan had begun rolling out their vaccines and there was conflict as to whether or not international spectators would attend.


Months before the ceremony, residents of Japan expressed their unwillingness to host the Olympics due to the low vaccination rates and the fear of a rise in Covid-19 cases. Others saw the economic and social benefits of hosting the games.


The prime minister of the host nation, Yoshihide Suga, tried assuring people that the Olympics could be held securely and safely. However, a survey released by Asahi Shimbun (one of the largest newspapers in Japan) revealed that 73% of the 1,527 respondents weren’t convinced with his claims. This survey conducted through phone calls in April and May also revealed that 83% of voters wanted the Olympics to be postponed or cancelled completely.


The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, representing 6,000 primary care doctors, also called for the cancellation of the games in May. Their concerns were the rise in Covid-19 cases, the low vaccination rates and the lack of doctors at the time. Other doctors in Japan expressed their concern with the potential spread of new variants from different countries.


As the Olympics approached, protests came and the number of coronavirus cases in Tokyo was increasing. On July 12th, around 2 weeks before the Olympics, Tokyo entered a state of emergency. Japanese government officials decided to not allow any spectators at the Olympics, but that measure didn’t appease protesters, who wanted the event cancelled completely.


On the other hand, cancelling the Olympics would have resulted in a huge economic loss for Tokyo and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).


The postponement of the games resulted in more expenses, so over $20 Billion USD was spent on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.


On top of that, the IOC is privately funded: around 73% of their revenue comes from selling television rights and 18% comes from sponsorships. If the IOC were to cancel the games, they would lose huge streams of income, which could impact future games.


Athletes would also be negatively impacted by the cancellation of the Olympics. They rely on the games to get sponsorships, endorsements and bonuses from medals. They also spend years training to qualify and to compete, so it makes sense that they would want their hard work to be showcased.


The games began with Naomi Osaka lighting the cauldron at the opening ceremony on July 23rd. Around 10,000 athletes were expected to compete whilst residents of Tokyo were under strict state of emergency regulations. At that time, only 38% of residents in Japan were vaccinated with one dose.

Tokyo took a risk by hosting their Olympics and many were afraid it wouldn’t pay off. In May, the Nomura Research Institute estimated that the cancellation of the games would result in a $16 billion USD stimulus loss. However, according to the Nomura Research Institute’s executive economist Takahide Kiuchi, the economic loss would be even greater if the games caused a rise in coronavirus cases.


Whilst the Olympics were being held, cases all over the country have been higher than ever. Tokyo, in particular, set records for the number of coronaviruses cases, reaching 1400 cases at the start of the Olympics and 4500 daily cases near the end. Many guessed that the rise in cases was due to the games, but the Prime Minister of Japan denies that there is any link between the two.


The games, however, are suspected to have had an effect on locals’ behaviour and compliance. Locals may feel that the safety measures in place aren’t necessary if the government is able to make exceptions for the Olympics.


Tokyo will be hosting a new set of international athletes for the Paralympics starting on August 24th. Around 4,000 people are expected to compete and the city might still be in a state of emergency if the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise.


As the Olympic torch fizzled out, light has been shed on the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The concerns for the Winter Olympics are China’s human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims and the safety of Canadian athletes after China upheld the death penalty on Robert Schellenberg, a detained Canadian.


Opposition leader, Erin O’ Toole is urging the federal government to consider boycotting the Beijing Olympics. Other nations are facing similar dilemmas.


Now that the Tokyo Olympics have passed, we can take this information with us to help make a better Olympics for Beijing.


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