It’s July 24, 2020 and the Thirty-second Olympiad of the modern era has just kicked off in spectacular fashion. The world’s largest metropolitan area of over 38 million inhabitants welcomed over one million new residents for the next two weeks. The major hubs around Tokyo and Yokohama are as busy and vibrant as they have ever been. A combination of tourists and spectators from all over the world has come to take part in the competition and celebrations in the Land of the Rising Sun. And not just the visitors; despite being more crowded than usual, there is an infectious enthusiasm for the spirit of the occasion that locals have had since the nation hosted the Rugby World Cup.
However, this is a different ball game. With over 11,000 athletes competing across 339 events, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games is already shaping up to be one of the largest and most exciting Olympics in history.
Except, it isn’t—at least not yet.
At the time of writing this article, we are exactly 364 days away from the rescheduled opening day of the Tokyo Olympics. Almost exactly 1 more year until the almost $30 billion endeavor is set to take place. While resetting the countdown clock might seem like a manageable period of time for organizers to get everything in order, every second of every day could feel more like a ticking time bomb of uncertainty for investors, Tokyo residents, and participating countries as COVID-19 and economic woes continue to wreak havoc across the world.
Not too long ago, Japan was riding a massive wave of momentum following a string of record-breaking international events including the Tokyo Motor Show and the unprecedented success of the aforementioned Rugby World Cup. The last quarter of 2019 showed the world that Japan was not only able to be a perfect host for affairs of such magnitude, but within the country, the pageantry and excitement of these events produced an unassailable buzz of anticipation for the main event—the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The numbers spoke for themselves and proved to be highly profitable for investors and organizers despite waning attendance in previous events and the bold risk of hosting a traditionally western sport in Asia. Tokyo 2020 was supposed to continue the record-setting trend and become the crown jewel of Shinzo Abe’s bullish strategy of stimulating the Japanese economy. Instead it’s quickly developing into one of the most costly tax-payer projects in the country’s history.
State of Uncertainty
It has now been over 7 months since the Novel Coronavirus first showed up on Japan’s radar and nearly 3 months since the nation’s state of emergency had been lifted, but Tokyo along with other parts of the country continue to set record highs of infection on a daily basis. Other countries like the US are also experiencing dramatic increases of infection due to relaxing measures with no indication of the “flattening” of the curve”.
The reality is that at the time of posting this we are over 200 days into a global pandemic and less than a year away from when we should expect the games to begin. With businesses operating remotely and a school year that is causing students, teachers, and parents to ask more questions outside of the classroom than in, every day that passes is eating away from a sense of normalcy that hasn’t been felt since last year.
Meanwhile, as the host country and Olympic organizers continue to address the tenuous timeline, countries and their athletes around the world are struggling with their own concerns. The Olympics is a four-year cycle which many athletes and teams specifically program for in order to ensure that whoever represents their country is the best when they take the field. The select few that are skillful enough, strong enough, and fast enough to participate within this quadrennial cycle need to make sure that they are competing at their pinnacle or near pinnacle form—for both performance and safety.
A one year delay, especially a year with less than favorable training conditions and other factors that the athlete might not be able to control can mean the difference between a gold medal and missing the podium or even keeping their place on the national team and being cut from it.
“United by Emotion”
That is the official motto adopted for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Games is supposed to be an international celebration of human capabilities and the sharing of culture on a stage like no other. It’s a sixteen-day display of how far we’ve come since the last time we all came together four years before. Beyond the medals, beyond the records, and beyond any controversy behind the IOC, the Summer Games is still the biggest worldwide event. It has brought to light countless stories of courage and triumph, and immortalized individuals and teams alike; turning them into heroes.
Between the global pandemic and the displays of socio-political activism worldwide, there is certainly a lot for us to process. The Tokyo Olympics wants us to be “united by emotion” but never really defined what that emotion should be. Will it be one of deference or difference? Will we get there through selflessness or selfishness? Will we end up celebrating together or continue sheltering apart?
The clock has been reset and the world has 364 days to figure it out.