Wanted or not, Tokyo Games will go on

Sport fans will be glued to their television screens for the next two weeks as the 2020 Summer Olympic Games — delayed a year on account of the pandemic — unfold in Tokyo and other locations in Japan. None will be watching more intently than those in Vancouver, which is bidding to hold the 2030 winter games.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/07/2021 (442 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Sport fans will be glued to their television screens for the next two weeks as the 2020 Summer Olympic Games — delayed a year on account of the pandemic — unfold in Tokyo and other locations in Japan. None will be watching more intently than those in Vancouver, which is bidding to hold the 2030 winter games.

Holding the 2020 games in Tokyo seemed like a good idea back in 2013, when the International Olympic Committee awarded the games to the Japanese city, which previously hosted the summer games in 1964. Other Japanese cities held Winter Olympics in 1972 and 1998.

This week, as the athletes and delegations gathered and COVID-19 infections were detected among them, the project seemed less appealing. The pandemic is raging in Tokyo, where the number of hospitalizations rose rapidly in recent days, threatening severe pressure on the hospitals. Opinion surveys have found a majority of Japanese wish the games would go away.

The games will not go away. The IOC made its concession to common sense last year when they delayed the games by a year and they are not about to back off now just because their Japanese hosts are afflicted with COVID-19 and no longer want travellers spreading the disease in their midst.

Opinion surveys have found a majority of Japanese wish the games would go away.

Brisbane, Australia will probably be selected this week as the site of the 2032 summer games. Several other cities thought of bidding but dropped out after further research, leaving Brisbane as the only prospective host. This year’s experience in Tokyo may further thin out the crowd of contenders inviting future Olympics.

The IOC has already lined up Beijing, Paris, Milan and Los Angeles to host the winter and summer games through the 2020s. Vancouver is bidding for the 2030 winter games, competing against bids from Sapporo, Barcelona and Salt Lake City.

Canadians know well the reasoning that leads cities to bid for the games — the prestige, the boost to tourism, the legacy of sports facilities, the encouragement to local athletes. They also know that the financial costs are always far more than the organizers expected, the economic boost is short-lived and the fabulous new facilities fall apart pretty soon. That was the experience of Montreal in 1976, Calgary in 1988 and Vancouver in 2010.

They also know that the IOC is a cranky and demanding guest. Its airy dismissal this week of Japanese health concerns may remind other former and prospective host cities that once you bring that organization into your city, it will make the rules. Your city is no longer yours.

The games have grown into an unwieldy and inconvenient presence that cannot be fitted into a city without severe disruption to the people who live there and stupendous cost to the city and its national government.

Cities and countries have their own reasons for catering to the IOC and its demands. Canadians need not fear that the 2030 games will find no home. If Vancouver drops out of the running, Sapporo, Barcelona and Salt Lake City will step in.

The Olympic Games can be a wonderful thing to watch — from a safe distance. The Olympic ideals glorify human achievement and offer a celebration of peaceful relations among the nations of the world. The games have, however, grown into an unwieldy and inconvenient presence that cannot be fitted into a city without severe disruption to the people who live there and stupendous cost to the city and its national government.

Canadians should wish Tokyo a successful Olympics with the least possible damage to their city and their health. And they should wish Sapporo, Barcelona and Salt Lake City good luck with their bids for the 2030 games.

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