COVID, World Unity and the Tokyo Summer Olympics

By Kris W. Sky | Posted July 26, 2021

On July 23, the Summer Olympic Games kicked off with its opening ceremony in host city Tokyo, the capital of Japan—a full year later than originally planned. This marks the first time the famed quadrennial multi-sport, multinational event has been rescheduled. And the world has COVID-19 to thank for it.

Soon after the coronavirus exploded across the continents, the International Olympic Committee, in corroboration with Japan’s own Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, announced the postponement of the games on March 24, 2020. 

And since then, it seems, the Games of the XXXII Olympiad have been doomed to conflict and controversy, starting with a profusion of resignations and dismissals among high-ranking officials.

In fact, even before the pandemic hit, on March 19, 2019, former Olympian Tsunekazu Takeda resigned his post as president of the Japanese Olympic Committee due to accusations of bribery. 

On February 12, 2021, former Prime Minister of Japan Yoshiro Mori surrendered his position as head of the Tokyo Organizing Committee over derogatory remarks made against women.

Then went creative director Hiroshi Sasaki in March after leaving a documented trail proposing plus-sized Japanese comedienne Naomi Watanabe be featured as the “Olympig,” replete with a porcine costume, during the opening ceremony.

At the eleventh hour, more drastic changes occurred. On July 19, composer Keigo Oyamada, who had contributed several minutes of music, dropped out amidst a resurfacing of multiple accounts of past bullying of disabled children. 

And on July 22, one day before the opening ceremony, its director, multifaceted artist Kentaro Kobayashi, was abruptly let go after the media got hold of video footage of a joke he made about the Holocaust during a 1998 performance.

These were the men tasked with creating, as quoted directly from the official Tokyo 2020 website, “an experience that conveys how we all have the ability to celebrate differences, to empathise, and to live side by side with compassion for one another.” The irony is far from lost.

Anything but Unity

Now throw into the mix the recent increase of COVID-19 cases, and you’ve got an even greater uphill battle in the quest for that experience. Two weeks before opening day, “Tokyo reported 920 new COVID-19 cases. … It’s the highest increase of cases … in a one-week span since 1,010 were reported on May 13.”

In response, on July 12, Tokyo enacted its fourth state of emergency since the pandemic, effectively prohibiting any local residents from attending the games. More than one million international enthusiasts were already made, back in March, to cancel their travel plans and to wait to get their tickets refunded. Barring a decrease in cases, this state of emergency is slated to remain in effect until Aug. 22, well after the end of the games on Aug. 8. 

As a result, several sponsors, among them auto goliath Toyota, took a large step back from promoting the Olympics, declining to send representation in person and even pulling TV advertisements within Japan. Two countries, North Korea and Guinea, dropped out of competing.

There are “no fans”; “no cheering” (signs specifically instruct, “Clap, do not sing or chant”); “no handshakes or high fives”; no socializing—basically as little contact as possible between participants.

Despite these measures, several athletes have contracted COVID-19 while at the games; several more, notably U.S. tennis star Coco Gauff, U.S. golfer Bryson DeChambeau, and Spanish golfer Jon Rahm, tested positive before even leaving for Tokyo.

Not even newly debuted Olympic sports and school-aged athletes (see perennial underdog skateboarding and its three medaled teenage, female winners) seem enough to dispel the pall upon the games. 

“Shorn of glitz and staged in an eerily silent stadium,” the opening ceremony played to a crowd of 950, mostly journalists and other VIPs, including first lady Dr. Jill Biden, rather than the 68,000 for which it was built.

And while IOC President Thomas Bach spoke of “the unifying power of sport”and the “hope for our further journey together,” angry chants from locals gathered just outside could be heard ringing through the stadium as they protested the $15.4 billion spent on what they view to be a tone-deaf extravagance. News outlets have reported from various polls that a range of some 50 to 80 percent of the Japanese public disapprove of holding the Olympics given the current state of the world. 

The Whole World

Needless to say, this is hardly the picture of togetherness. It is an achingly pitiful behemoth limping toward the finish line, so desperate to recreate any semblance of victory, of strength, of wholeness.

People are predominantly under the impression that unity fosters peace and equals goodness. Is it now becoming the magic panacea of all the world’s troubles? Do we all simply need to be in this … together?

Yes, surely, the Bible does condemn “strife … and divisions” (1 Corinthians 3:3). But it also prophesies of a unity that is not of God. It also discerns two groups, one united in “obedience leading to righteousness,” the other in “sin leading to death” (Romans 6:16). One day, it declares, “all the world … [will follow] the beast” (Revelation 13:3). One day, all who have united under this beast will train their crosshairs upon those who “would not worship the image of the beast” (v. 15), the followers of God.

Join Pastor Doug Batchelor in his study of this beast and what happens “When All the World Wonders.” 

Kris W. Sky
Kris W. Sky is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.

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