07172021 Tokyo Olympics Daily Life

A woman reads on her cellphone as she walks by the Olympic rings installed by the Nippon Bashi bridge in Tokyo on Thursday, July 15, 2021.

By Arthur Vidro

Why do many entities wait until the last minute to cancel events?

Money.

If folks running a convention cancel it (for any reason), that organization will lose the money it has put down as deposits, perhaps be forced by contract to pay additional money, and must issue refunds to anyone who has paid to attend. Plus, it probably won’t be eligible for compensation from insurance companies.

But if event organizers wait until the host facility or the city/state/national government containing the facility mandates the event’s cancellation, then their deposits are refunded and insurance presumably will reimburse the organizers.

That’s the fiscal background for most of the world. But not for the Olympic Games, which begin July 23 in Tokyo.

Japan’s borders have been partially closed for months, thanks to COVID-19. But the welcome mat was always out for all arriving Olympics personnel.

Why are the games being staged despite the pandemic’s tightening grip on Japan? Money.

The games were originally slated for the summer of 2020. But when worldwide travel pretty much became forbidden, the games were delayed by a year.

Note the games were delayed, not canceled.

Cancellation, a year ago or now, would cost powerful parties much money.

There are many reasons to argue for canceling the games.

As of July 4, only 10% of Tokyo’s population had been fully inoculated against the COVID-19 virus.

About 60% of Tokyo’s residents favor either canceling or again postponing the games.

Japanese nurses spoke out against the games after Olympic organizers requested that 500 of them be dispatched to provide volunteer medical services around the event. Note that this would take the nurses away from their usual patients — the citizens of Japan.

Some medical experts warned all along that the Olympic Games could become a super-spreader event. New cases in Tokyo could increase fivefold or tenfold. Allowing fans to attend would have presented a risk, not just at the venues, but through circulation of the virus via commuter trains, restaurants, and other public places. Yet the organizers waited until July 8 — the date the nation announced a new state of emergency — to decide not to allow spectators (except possibly sponsors and dignitaries; barring VIPs is different than barring the public).

The new state of emergency for Tokyo is scheduled to run from July 12 through August 8, at which point it might be extended.

In May, nine Japanese governors called for the games to be canceled or again postponed.

Personally, I would have pulled the plug on these Olympics four months ago.

However, neither the medical community nor Japan’s governors or residents (nor newspaper columnists) have any say in the matter. Once the contract was signed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which chooses the host cities and nations from a menu of bidders, only the IOC can cancel or postpone.

That’s right; by signing the contract, the host nation or host city gives up many rights. Instead of governing themselves, they must now serve the spectacle we know as the Olympics.

The IOC exists to make money. It sells broadcast rights to television. It sells sponsorship rights to the highest bidder. Why do companies sponsor the Olympics? So their ads can claim, “The official paper clip of the 2020 Summer Olympics.” Or official flypaper. Or official whatever. And then the masses who let commercials sway their buying behavior will purchase the sponsor’s product.

More than 3.6 million tickets have been sold. Organizers in Tokyo initially expected about $800 million in revenue from ticket sales; but changes caused by the pandemic meant they wouldn’t have realized even half that amount. Now, with the barring of all paid spectators, they won’t realize any ticket revenue. Refunds will have to be issued for all tickets.

The IOC doesn’t care. Ticket revenue goes to the local organizing entity. So the absence of ticket revenue means a shortfall that has to be picked up by Japanese governmental entities. Which means taxpayers.

Depending on who you ask, the Tokyo Olympics will cost anywhere from $15.4 billion to $31 billion. In any case, just $6.7 billion will come from private entities. The rest will be paid for by the Japanese public.

The IOC derives nearly 75% of its income from the sale of television rights. Another 18% comes from the sponsors. If the IOC cancels the Olympics — remember, they’re the only ones allowed to do so — then the IOC will have to refund all that television and sponsorship money. The IOC would lose billions of dollars. As long as airplanes are flying, the IOC will never choose to cancel.

Athletes may not bring friends or family, except for babies getting nursed by those athletes. Attendance will be limited to people with connections.

Still, limited or zero attendance is not sufficient reason to cancel.

But public health is an excellent reason.

The Olympics will bring together 15,000 athletes and more than 50,000 officials (including sponsors and dignitaries), as well as 70,000 volunteers. The games will be played while the nation is under a government-ordered state of emergency. Japan can declare an emergency. But it can’t cancel the games.

If television (and streaming) had never been invented, the Olympic Games would not be played this year. But because of the money that can be made from our global addiction to staring at screens, the games will go on.

For this is sports and money, realms that are more important than health — at least, to the decision-makers behind televised sports. The IOC will maximize its profit. The games will be played.

No matter what the cost to public health.

Arthur Vidro’s “EQMM Goes to College” appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

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