TOKYO – It’s now March, the month when the Tokyo Olympics came apart just a year ago. Will it happen again? Frankly, it seems unlikely.
The start of the torch relay on March 25 from northeastern Fukushima prefecture is just over three weeks away. It will involve 10,000 runners and end in Tokyo at the opening ceremony on July 23.
These are certain to be a made-for-television Olympics. There will be few tourists and no party atmosphere. The focus will be on getting 11,000 athletes into the venues to perform in front of cameras, and then getting them out of Japan as quickly as possible.
About 40% of the qualification slots for the Olympics are still open, so there will be lots of last-minute entries, in-flux rules about who qualifies, and surely some unhappy athletes who are left out.
And there will be lots of guidelines to follow, which are spelled out in so-call Playbooks issued by the International Olympic Committee. They are vague for now, but will be updated in April and June.
These Olympics have been through plenty: a global pandemic, and a bidding bribery scandal that forced former IOC member Tsunekazu Takeda to resign as the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee. And just last month the 83-year-old president of the organizing committee was forced out for making sexist remarks.
Yorhiro Mori has been replaced by a woman, 56-year-old Seiko Hashimoto, who is promising changes on the gender-equality front.
Q: What difference will it make now that a woman heads the organizing committee?
A: It feels mostly symbolic, which is still a major victory for women in Japan. The “Old Boys” network was beaten back last month even as Mori tried to replace himself with a man who was even older.
Hashimoto has promised to almost immediately increase the executive board membership to reach 40% female. It's now about 20%. Unfortunately, the organizing committee, which employs about 3,500 people, will dissolve after the Olympics.
The present executive board has 37 members, including Hashimoto. Eight are women. Hashimoto, a medal-winning former Olympian, is expected to add 11 women this week, according to local newspapers.
Q: What is the state of the pandemic and vaccinations in Japan?
A: Japan is several months behind other major economies. It began the vaccine rollout about 10 days ago. Japan has also controlled the virus far better than most other large countries. Japan, with a population of 126 million, has attributed almost 8,000 deaths to COVID-19. This compares to the United States, with a population of 330 million, with more than 510,000 deaths.
Japan is expected to rescind a state of emergency on March 7. After that happens, the country is reportedly ready to lift a ban on athletes who want to enter and train or compete.
Q: Will athletes need to be vaccinated to enter Japan?
A: No. The IOC has said it will not require athletes or “participants” to be vaccinated. But it is encouraging it, and the 206 nations and territories participating are all handling it differently.
Q: What exactly is it the cost to putting on the Tokyo Olympics?
A: Olympic costs are difficult to track. The heart of the problem is this: what are Olympic expenses, and what are not?
Economists suggest paying attention to the concept of “opportunity costs.” Simply put, every cent spent on the Olympics cannot be spend somewhere else — on schools, hospitals or train stations.
The official cost of the Tokyo Games is $15.4 billion, which makes it the most expensive Olympics on record. And several national audits suggest the real costs might be twice that much. All but about $6.7 billion is public money. The IOC picks up only a tiny fraction of the costs.
Q: Will there be fans? When will officials decide?
A: Hashimoto has indicated there should be a limited number of fans. A decision should come in the next few weeks. Many fans from abroad seem unlikely. Any reduction in fans will be costly. The organizing committee has budgeted $800 million in income from ticket sales. Any shortfall will be made up by a Japanese government entity.
Hashimoto said last week the decision on fans will be made in a joint meeting of the organizing committee, the Tokyo metropolitan government, the IOC and the national government.
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