OPINION: Olympics Go On, But At What Cost?
The Olympics has always been about overcoming adversity to achieve excellence on an international stage unlike any other.
Coverage of the events themselves is always supplemented with feature stories of athletes who started their pursuit of glory in run-down gymnasiums or other meager circumstances. This year, after a postponed 2020 games, we are likely to see stories of even more incredible adversity. Athletes who had to find unusual means to train with facilities closed, endured mental battles they overcame in the midst of isolation and other inspiring tales of communities rallying around individual competitors.
As was announced last week however, the games this year will not have spectators. The 15,000 Olympians and Paralympians that do travel to Tokyo will be entering a city in the midst of a state of emergency due to COVID-19 surges. The adversity these games were postponed for in the first place has been largely quelled, but has not passed.
An International Olympic Committee spokesperson told Vox in late June that “well above” 80 percent of residents of the Olympic and Paralympic Village in Tokyo will be vaccinated, along with somewhere between 70 to 80 percent of the media. What remains unclear as the games approach however, are the risks being assumed by those who were either unwilling or unable to be vaccinated.
Setting aside those unwilling, the number unable in particularly low-income nations should be a cause of concern. Despite the efforts of COVAX, a collaboration started in April of 2020 with the goal of distributing two billion vaccines by the end of 2021, less than one percent of the populations of underprivileged nations have received a single vaccine according to reports from Scientific American and the New York Times. Those iniquities may make themselves abundantly clear if an athlete contracts COVID-19 and brings it home. Even for the citizens of Tokyo itself, the potential exposure in what is more than certainly not going to be a sealed “bubble” around the games likely warranted the emergency declaration.
The next Olympics had the chance to be a triumphant moment for humankind, symbolic of the efforts of our best and brightest to overcome one of the greatest tests of the last century. At our present rate of vaccination, it still has that chance, but for some nations the odds are not favorable if something other than a medal comes home.