Let the Games Begin
Global Traveler|March 2021
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics works toward a mid-pandemic strategy.
By Elyse Glickman

Until the end of 2019, The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee collaborated to ensure the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games would be greater than the sum of its events, athletes, teams and ancillary events. “The Reconstruction Games” became a prevailing theme, with numerous competitive soccer, baseball and softball events planned in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, all affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

And then COVID-19 forced rescheduling of these best-laid plans and, ultimately, all international travel. Nevertheless, once the new dates for the Olympic Games ( July 23–Aug. 8, 2021) and Paralympic Games (Aug. 24–Sept. 5, 2021) were set, the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games announced in its updated media materials that the revamped Games would rise up as an embodiment of the human spirit that would transcend athletics.

Furthermore, tickets, tourism dollars and media coverage would still raise awareness and funds for the cities’ continued rebuilding. “Recovery from the earthquake remains one of the important themes for Tokyo 2020,” affirmed a spokesperson from the Tokyo Organizing Committee. “In order to support the reconstruction of the disaster-hit areas, we will leverage the power of sport to generate hope and put smiles on the faces of children living in those areas. Another aim is to re-introduce the nature, cuisine, history, tradition and culture of the disaster-hit areas to the world, and show our gratitude to [those who provided] support during their recovery.”

Although a late January article appearing in The New York Times and other news outlets reported on consideration of a possible second cancellation amid some Japanese officials connected with the games, IOC president Thomas Bach and others swiftly pushed back, saying the show would go on, with safety modifications implemented accordingly. According to Reuters, the IOC was working in conjunction with the World Health Organization to help arrange for vaccines for more than 11,000 athletes. Taro Kono, the newly installed head of Japan’s inoculation push, meanwhile, announced vaccination of Japan’s 126 million citizens would begin in late February.

“In order to ensure the safety and security of the spectators and others, as with preparations for the Games themselves, discussions are being held at a series of meetings attended by representatives of the Government of Japan, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Tokyo 2020,” assured the Games’ spokesperson. “We are also discussing COVID-19 infection prevention measures, including the implementation of physical distancing at venues, with individual local municipalities.”

Optimistic ticket holders can also gain valuable insight from St. Louis-bred and Kyoto-based Japan expert/travel planner Robert Schrader. He observed several practices were already in place to slow the spread, including widespread signage about wearing masks, local police tasked to politely encourage citizens to stay home except when necessary, and regular spraying of the subways and other public areas with an antivirus solution between 1 and 5 a.m.

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