Mixed feeling for Japanese after an extraordinary Olympics

The people of Japan opposed the Games due to the Covid situation but the performances of host athletes helped lift the gloom.
Tokyo Olympics 2020 Closing Ceremony Live(REUTERS) PREMIUM
Tokyo Olympics 2020 Closing Ceremony Live(REUTERS)
Updated on Aug 10, 2021 06:22 PM IST
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ByAvishek Roy, Tokyo

Tokyo’s two international airports Haneda and Narita were clogged a day after an unusual Olympics came to an end on August 8. The Olympic traffic was departing while Paralympic contingents trooped in for the Games beginning on August 24.

There was no respite for people as virus cases exploded during the Games with infections in Tokyo touching a record daily high of 5,000 cases three days before the Olympics closed on Sunday. It has been that sort of Games for people in Tokyo, who have hardly been able to enjoy the rousing performances of their athletes.

Fear of the rapid spread of the delta variants was topmost in their minds. When the world was busy trying to put sport in context, the hope in can offer during the raging pandemic, Japan was fighting a grim battle. Its medical facilities were stretched with infections in the nation going up to 15,000 daily cases during the Olympics. Reeling under opposition to the staging of the Games, Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was at pains to explain during the Olympics that there was no link between the Games and surging infection and that the government has taken enough measures to prevent the spread. A panel of experts advising the Tokyo metropolitan government warned the situation could deteriorate.

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Though Japan has won praise from the international community for pulling off an extraordinary Games amid Covid, it hasn’t helped lift the sombre mood here. The Olympics began amid emergency in five prefectures and after some of the top sponsors pulling out, respecting the sentiments of the people. By the time the Games ended, the quasi-emergency restrictions had been extended to eight more prefectures.

“The Tokyo Olympics came to an end on Sunday with no end in sight for the coronavirus that continues to spread across the nation,” The Japan News said in its front page report on the closure on Monday.

The sporting achievement of Japanese athletes has lifted the spirits, but only just. The baseball team beating United States in the final and the women’s basketball team giving a tough fight to the US in the gold medal match grabbed the media headlines here on the final day.

“Largely the opinion has not changed much, that hosting the Olympics was not good during pandemic times because the infection rate is so high,” says Kazuki Misu, a sports journalist. “Sports has brought some cheer, people are happy but they are not supportive of the policies of the government.”

Miho Sato, 38, working with a Japanese multinational here, says the perception has changed a little. “We tended to feel a bit of negativity because of Covid-19, but Japan won so many medals that we got a lot of courage from the players. I was also very impressed that foreign players wore Japanese-conscious clothes at the opening ceremony and bowed by imitating Japanese people. On the other hand, I think there are many people who still think it should not have been held.”

There was a good vibe after a soulful opening ceremony on July 23, which came with a message of hope to people of the world. That lingered only for a few days as the infection rate climbed in the city.

The performances of the Japanese athletes were amazing but the Japanese people themselves were outsiders to a Games happening in their backyard. They went about their jobs daily as an Olympics was on in empty stadiums; Tokyo was cut off from the Games. The only events that saw crowds were road cycling and marathon at the weekend in Sapporo. The smiling, cheering volunteers told a different story but scratch the surface and they would reveal how grim the situation was in the city.

“Many people are very happy with the Japanese players because Japan has won the most (28) gold medals in history. Also, since there were five new sports this time, people's interest in sports has increased. For example, the number of people who want to do sports climbing is increasing, and skateboards are selling well at sports goods stores,” said Sato.

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The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organisers did well to manage the Covid spread inside the Olympic bubble after it seemed it had been breached even before the Games could begin. Daily testing of athletes in the Games Village, where more than 10,000 athletes stayed, contact tracing, strict monitoring of Covid protocols in hotels and venues and other countermeasures helped contain the spread. Over 624,000 screening tests were carried out for people in the bubble with the positive rate at 0.02%, the Games' organisers said. The total Games-related infections from the start of July were 430; of that, 286 were Japanese residents and the rest foreigners. Only 32 were staying in the Village.

“An Olympics has this special feeling about it and it brings so much pride among people,” says Prof. Donna Wong of Waseda University, Tokyo. “At present it is difficult to gauge its impact. The real impact of this Olympics and how people perceive it can be known maybe after some years, when Japanese people can look back and say Tokyo held an Olympics during the pandemic,” she said.

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