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THERE’S STILL TIME TO KILL THE OLYMPICS — INSTEAD OF PEOPLE
The Tokyo Games somehow are proceeding in a state of emergency, without spectators, when common sense demands that the Delta variant in Japan take precedence over the financial bonanza
With proper respect to Citius, Altius, Fortius and all that 1894 b.s., Planet Earth would be a much better place without the Tokyo Olympics. Lives would be saved in Japan. Athletes would be spared a dark, vacant, spectator-less experience. An international TV audience, already reduced in scope by apathy and scant starpower, wouldn’t be exposed to the vestiges of peak-pandemic sports: canned noise, cardboard cutouts, contrived hype.
So let the Games NOT begin, why don’t we? Let the Games be subjected to a cease-and-desist order and protect the world from a disaster in waiting. Let humanity and common sense prevail, not the seduction of billions.
Two weeks before a surreal opening ceremony in a mostly empty, $1.4-billion National Stadium, please realize there is no imperial reason this event must take place. The Japanese prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, could cancel it. President Biden doesn’t have to send the U.S. team, which would prompt NBC to pull the programming plug. And the International Olympic Committee could locate a conscience and realize the Games shouldn’t proceed under a new state of emergency, as declared this week in Tokyo, where the Delta variant is causing a sharp rise in coronavirus case numbers in a country already woefully under-vaccinated. That’s why spectators have been barred from all competitions in the Tokyo metropolitan region, meaning the human elements that define an Olympiad — global unity and conviviality — will be profoundly missing.
‘‘Taking into consideration the impact of the Delta strain, and in order to prevent the resurgence of infections from spreading across the country, we need to step up virus prevention measures," Suga explained.
But he didn’t say what he should have said: With some 11,000 athletes and 40,000 auxiliary personnel en route — and some already testing positive upon arrival — Japan can’t afford to host the most fraught Olympics in recent times. Past Games have been impacted by daunting challenges, mostly terrorism-related, but nothing compares to the epidemiological threats posed this summer. What we have here is a superspread threat, with many representatives from 200-plus countries still not jabbed themselves. Which is why a vast majority of Japan’s populace is opposed to the Games, with street demonstrations juxtaposed against stay-at-home orders and restaurant/bar bans.
That’s right, no karaoke. Athletes are expected to remain in the isolation of their village rooms, with only limited exposure to others, until it’s time to compete. When they’re finished, they’ll be ushered straight to the airport. Welcome to the Lonely Games, where condoms won’t be distributed until athletes are leaving town and alcohol can be consumed only when they’re alone in their rooms. Do I detect a Carrie Underwood-George Thorogood duet, about ‘‘drinking alone,’’ from some distant studio during NBC down time? None of this, of course, is the least bit funny.
‘‘The infections are in their expansion phase and everyone in this country must firmly understand the seriousness of it," said Dr. Shigeru Omi, a leading government medical adviser.
‘‘It is regrettable that we are delivering the Games in a very limited format, facing the spread of coronavirus infections," Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said. ‘‘I am sorry to those who purchased tickets and everyone in local areas."
Again, they didn’t say what they should have said. Leave that duty to Yukio Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, who slammed rival Suga in urging: ‘‘It’s not too late. Cancel or postpone it.’’
There’s time, but not much. More likely, greed has won once again, as it has in Big Sports since the earliest pandemic stages. The IOC says it is financially famished — though I don’t believe it — claiming almost 75 percent of its $5.7 billion in four-year revenues depends on broadcast revenue. NBC, responsible for most of those rights fees, needs to recoup advertising money lost from last year’s Games postponement. And Tokyo organizers have reportedly invested $25 billion.
So, even though Japan has been devastated by a tsunami and a nuclear disaster, the virus-imperiled Games carry on. IOC president Thomas Bach is quarantined in his luxury Tokyo hotel, but he surfaced to express nothing but confidence, saying in a video conference that Japan’s virus-prevention measures ‘‘have proven to be successful.’’ Amazing he can assume as much when he has no idea what awaits, when the torch relay had to be shifted from the Tokyo streets to remote coastal islands.
Suga, also with money on the brain, thinks this can be a triumphant moment for the Japanese spirit. ‘‘I want to transmit to (the world) a message from Tokyo about overcoming hardship with effort and wisdom,’’ he said.
That would be wishful thinking, not vigilant leadership.
Prepare yourself, then, for an onslaught of NBC promos — pitching 7,000 hours of coverage across eight TV networks, including the all-important Peacock streaming platform. America has little vested in these Games, beyond Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky, and people are enjoying a summer outdoors after so many months of indoor seclusion. Like all ratings for major sports events, including the current NBA Finals and just-concluded Stanley Cup final, the numbers will be shockingly low. Apparently, the network will focus on American athletes conversing with loved ones at home — via remote technology — after victories. When in doubt, emphasize family.
‘‘It’s a pretty elaborate plan that we’re calling ‘Friends and Family,’ ``’’ NBC producer Rob Hyland told a media session. ‘‘What I’m most excited about, I think what we all are, is connecting.”
What I’m least excited about: People will be getting sick, if not dying.
There’s still time to kill the Games instead.
Jay Mariotti, called ‘‘the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes sports columns for Substack and a Wednesday media column for Barrett Sports Media while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.