HT Editorial: The Olympics dilemma
There is perhaps no safe way of conducting the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, slated to begin on July 23. In fact, there is a clear possibility of the Games becoming a “superspreader” event. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has, however, turned a deaf year to calls for cancelling the Games and gone on the offensive — with its longest serving member, Dick Pound, recently saying that cancelling the event was “essentially off the table”.
But the pandemic is not bothered with chest-thumping leadership or sweeping bravado. Do anything without the backing of cold scientific evidence, and you are inviting the Sars-CoV-2 virus to your doorstep. And if that thing involves over 30,000 people (athletes, coaches, contingent staff, broadcast staff, and administrators) from 200 different countries descending in one city, without quarantine rules or bio bubbles, and with varying vaccination status, the risk levels are staggering. No wonder the chorus against the Games being held has grown louder. A poll in Japan found that 70% of people wanted the Games to be cancelled or deferred.
When the Games organisers, who would need an estimated 10,000 medical workers for the event, recently requested for an additional 500 nurses, the Japan Federation of Medical Workers’ Union said it was “infuriated” with the insistence to hold the Games. In May alone, the largest organisation of doctors in Tokyo asked that the Olympics be stopped; a British Medical Journal editorial said that going ahead with the Games would be “ignoring scientific and moral imperatives”; and an article in the New England Journal of Medicine exposed the staggering loopholes in the Covid-19 management system being put in place by the IOC (for example, antigen tests instead of RT-PCR, vaccinations not mandatory).
But it is hard to cancel the Olympics. For one, it means ruthlessly ending the dreams of thousands of athletes who have worked for years and years for their moment of glory. The modern Olympics have only been cancelled thrice in its history, all three times because of the two World Wars. The other reason is money. Japan has officially spent $15.4 billion to organise the Olympics, although government audits say it may be much higher. IOC also stands to generate an estimated $2-3 billion from TV rights. And if cancelled, insurers are facing a $2-3 billion loss. It is a toss-up between history and money on one side, and science and safety on the other. Choose wisely.
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