Tokyo 2020: nine days to go

14 July, 2021

As athletes start arriving in Toyko, perhaps you can spare a tiny thought for this man; Kazunori Takishima, who has an Olympic dream of setting a world record of attending the most Olympic events ever. He had spent nearly $40k on a hundred Tokyo 2020 tickets, saving and scheming for years. Of course, he now can’t go to any of them:

And nor can anyone else. Because, on the 8th July a committee decided that no-one would be allowed to attend any Olympic events without accreditation. At a stroke, it destroyed the last hope that this Games would be any kind of ‘normal’. Without fans, it reinforces the feeling that this Games is a contractual obligation. It also risks turning off the casual Olympics fan whose eyeballs ultimately pay for the whole thing via the TV advertising and broadcast revenue.

Fair enough, you might say, given that Tokyo is once again under a state of emergency until the middle of August. But the restrictions are and have been relatively light compared to the lockdowns seen in much else of the Western world. It was hoped that some fans could attend some of the events outside Tokyo – then that idea got squished as well.

Numerous large scale outdoor sporting events have taken place this spring and summer without (apparently) spiking coronavirus cases; the Superbowl, Wimbledon and the European Championships to name but a few (although given the scenes at Wembley on Sunday, the jury is probably still out on what virus-spiking damage a nearly full stadium of Brits can do).

Other sporting events in Japan are going ahead with spectators. J-League football matches are going ahead in other parts of Japan, and playoffs apparently continue throughout the Games. One of the major Sumo tournaments is going on right now, as of this writing, in Nagoya – in a numbers-restricted indoor arena. Another major sumo championships is scheduled for Tokyo in September.

Baseball is going ahead right now, and a situation has arisen with well-known Dominican-Japanese hitter Cristopher Mercedes, who plays for Tokyo team Yomiuri Giants, and who has been named to the Dominican Republic team for the Olympic Games. You can go and see him play with his team in Tokyo this season, but you can’t go and see him play for his country at the Olympics, down the road in Yokohama, in a week or two.

The blanket ban on spectators at all venues seems like it need an explanation, but the organisers would only say that it was a ‘very special’ situation, where crowds would be expected to both socialise and congregate afterwards. This is apparently on the recommendation of the government’s public health adviser Dr. Omi, although the full reasons remain opaque:

Increasingly, it feels like the Japanese government are holding the event at arms length. Opinion polls have consistently shown the public is deeply concerned about holding the games, and a loud media seems to continually suggest that they are inviting people from all over the world to bring variants of the coronavirus to their islands. (The incredibly draconian policies developed to stop this happening do not appear to have made it to the front pages, and a current estimate suggests that 80-90% of the overseas visitors to Japan will be vaccinated, as opposed to around 25% of the Japanese population. It seems to have led to awkward situations like this one.)

The Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga’s handling of the pandemic (including a now-famously slow vaccination rollout) has eroded his public support, and there are leadership races and an election imminent. The government had long seen the Olympics as a chance to display Japan’s recovery from the devastating 2011 earthquake and nuclear crisis. With a pandemic still raging and Japan ‘holding the baby’, it almost feels like it has decided to get the whole thing out of the way as quietly and painlessly as possible with as much support as it can muster.

It should be noted that Monday on Japanese Twitter, the phrase, “Anyone but LDP or Komeito” was trending, referring to voting for any political parties other than the ruling Liberal Democratic Party or their coalition partner, the Komeito, in the coming parliamentary election. It seems that few of the Japanese public are happy about how this year has turned out, but this is where we are at.

The prospect of a ‘ghost’ Games in Tokyo is a dramatic and dark turn in the history of the event. Full venues have been at the centre of all the iconic moments in Olympic history, and who knows what is around the corner.

The Korea Archery Association continues their all-out social media assault; this time forcing the six Olympic athletes through media training, and, for some reason, filming it. All of them look like they’d rather be pulling out their toenails that doing it.

The same video is notable for coach Park Chaesoon’s extraordinary mask chains, which give him an unexpectedly cyberpunk look. Hey, if it works for him. (Lots of other interesting videos here)

An interesting documentary for Olympics fans is coming out in a few days, retelling the story of the ‘Oriental Witches’ of the 1964 Games; one of the canonical tales from that competition. It looks well worth a look:

Finally, YouGov threw up a fascinating tidbit about British people gambling during the Olympics. Archery gets a mention, too.

According to their data, 9% of British adults will place some kind of wager on the Olympics. (I make that around 4.5 million people. Seems like a lot.) Of that number:

Punters appear to be most likely to bet on events such as track and field (49%), football (49%), boxing (31%), tennis (28%), and gymnastics (20%). Other events that will draw gamblers include swimming (18%), basketball (15%), cycling (15%), badminton (8%), diving (7%), weightlifting (6%), table tennis (6%) and volleyball or beach volleyball (6%), archery (3%) and baseball (3%). 

Three percent? I crunch that as 135,000 UK adults will be betting on the archery during the Games? Really? If you’re planning on sticking some money down, let me know…

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