Olympics on edge four days before opening ceremony as Covid cases rise

Polls show many in Japan do not want the Olympics to go ahead. Credit: AP

As the opening ceremony for the almost dystopian Tokyo Olympics creeps closer, it’s hard not to think these Games are already on a knife-edge.

So far there have been three of Covid-19 positives in the athletes’ village, an entire rugby squad is in quarantine; six British athletes from the track and field team and another four officials have also been forced into isolation; I could continue with the list but in total there have been more than 50 cases relating directly to the Games since the beginning of July.

And this is against the backdrop of a country that doesn’t want the Olympics here in the first place.

The latest survey by a newspaper reveals that two-thirds of respondents are not confident the organisers can control Covid infections in Tokyo as the city’s state of emergency continues.

A country where polls suggest 80% wish they had been cancelled, where half a million singed a petition to stop them happening and where those fully vaccinated only account for 20% of the population.

It is not difficult to detect anxiety amongst a nation that usually is so welcoming to its foreign visitors.

That unease has spread to one of the Games’ biggest partners, the Japanese car giant Toyota. Today they confirmed they would not be running any television ads for the duration of the Olympics or even sending their executives to Friday’s opening ceremony. Such is their concern about the strength of the Japanese public’s opposition.

It feels like a deeply symbolic decision. 

The Team GB sailing team arriving in Tokyo Credit: PA

It is of course difficult to predict what lies ahead.

Getting 11,000 athletes from more than 200 different countries into Japan ‘Covid-free’ was always going to be the most challenging exercise and the weakest link in the stringent anti-coronavirus strategy organisers have put in place.

Add to them the tens of thousands of officials and media who are streaming into Tokyo on a daily basis.

Once everyone has arrived, done their three or 14 days of quarantine and followed all the protocols to the letter, in theory the risk of sizeable outbreaks should be small. But that’s only a theory and an optimistic one at that.

The British athletes who are isolating are at least being allowed to train, albeit socially distanced, after discussions with their regional hosts at their camp in Yokohama. They are tested every day and are following all Covid protocols.

While this incident so early on is clearly far from ideal, Team GB officials are being pragmatic given they already have 680 athletes and staff here, none have tested positive and only 10 are isolating. To put it another way it’s an acceptable hit-rate.  

With no fans, these Games will obviously look and feel entirely different but what happens when events are impacted by missing athletes through infection or isolation?

Swimming or athletics' heats with empty lanes for example, competitions with far fewer athletes or even whole teams not involved and then what if some of the Big Names are prevented from taking part as young tennis star Coco Gauff has had to do after testing positive before she even made it to Japan?

Credit: AP

From a purely sporting perspective, these are the moments when you begin to ask, if you’re not already of course, what is the point?

It is also the moment where more questions will be fired at the IOC to defend itself for forcing these Games through.

They have always insisted athlete and public safety is their utmost priority; now Tokyo 2020 has arrived if cases surge, that pledge will be tested to its limits.

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