Tokyo Olympics: Light at the end of the tunnel or a global folly?


he Japanese artist Tanaka Tatsuya photographs things in miniature, for Tokyo 2020 using face masks to recapture key Olympic events.

A blue face covering is the backdrop for five swimmers lined up at a makeshift pool, a green one akin to the startline of a 100m race.

His artwork is the perfect precursor to an Olympics which will indelibly be the Covid Games whether the IOC like it or not.

From the moment they were postponed by a year, IOC president Thomas Bach spoke of them acting as the light at the end of the tunnel. For the people of Tokyo, a city already in a state of emergency over rising Covid cases, the fear is it will only plunge it into darker times when the show is over.

This is a city and nation far from in thrall with the Games. Downtown Tokyo is virtually dead with officer workers consigned to their homes or else residents having packed up and left the city before 80,000 foreigners were flown in.

The fragile hope for everyone from residents to officials and the athletes is that it is the sport rather than Covid that captures the headlines in the coming weeks.

It has long seemed the ultimate global folly for athletes, team officials and media from 205 countries to converge on a single city in the midst of a pandemic not under control in Japan nor in the vast majority of the countries taking part.

And yet it became apparent long ago that there is too much money – billions have been spent on the Games – and pride at stake for it not to go ahead over the course of the next two-and-a-half weeks.

The Olympics are no stranger to controversy and tragedy from Mexico in 1968 where 200 protestors were killed to the Israeli team members taken hostage and killed in Munich four years later.

And yet its latest inception is a Games like no other, although the purpose from a purely sporting sense is still the same.

There is still the chance to turn relative nobodies into household names overnight, for people back in the UK to suddenly become experts in the nuances of taekwondo or talk over the intricacies of the 10m platform synchro diving.

Other worldly performances can be expected from Adam Peaty on the opening weekend in the pool to the athletics track next week where a litany of world records could be broken thanks to the sport’s new super shoes, another controversial sideshow.

Organisers are craving some positivity. Friday’s opening ceremony has been doused in scandal in the past days, one of its composers stepping back from his role after an article resurfaced in which he admitted to bullying classmates with learning disabilities in quite horrible and graphic fashion.

And then the event’s artistic director was hit with the axe from the ceremony when focus turned to an old comedy sketch of his about the Holocaust.

Olympic athletes like to talk about sacrifices, but the extent of the sacrifice Tokyo has made – against much of its residents’ will – won’t be known for weeks, even months. There is even the spectre of the birth of an Olympic variant of a virus that has decimated the world.

The great shame is inside the venues there will be no spectators and, as a result, Japan are unable to show quite how great a host they could have been as with the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

And yet the message, as has always been the case ahead of the opening week, remains the same… let the Games begin. They desperately need to.

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