Beijing’s motto in 2008 highlighted the unifying nature of the Olympics Games; one world coming together to support one collective dream of peace and respect, demonstrated by 15,000 athletes from 350 nations around the world.
However, after a year turned upside down by a global virus, the necessity of Tokyo’s postponed Games has been called into question. Should an event that promotes unity and togetherness be allowed to take place in a world of social distancing?
2020 was a disastrous year, with wildfires and social unrest ripping through countries alongside the destruction caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As an event that has challenged prejudice and international rifts from its inception around 776 BC, it’s argued that the Tokyo Olympics couldn’t come at a better time.
If Jesse Owens was able to single-handedly defy Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy in 1936, why couldn’t the Tokyo Olympics present a brief moment of hope in our modern, fractured world? Yet with nearly 15,000 athletes from every corner of the planet, the Olympic and Paralympic games would obviously break every travel ban in the book.
Hosting the Olympic and especially Paralympic games in a virus-ridden world creates an ableist-agenda Tokyo is quickly becoming an epicentre of the pandemic in Japan and the games this summer have every potential to create an extreme spike in case numbers. It almost seems slightly trivial, to allow this many athletes to so overtly break Covid-19 rules.
Although the Olympics signify the pinnacle in an athlete’s career, the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that UK unemployment is likely to reach 2.6 million by May 2021, so why are we going to prioritise the careers of athletes over the general population who are struggling to put food on the table?
That being said, hosting the Olympic and especially Paralympic Games in a virus ridden world creates an ableist agenda. Any athletes with underlying health conditions, which is very common in Paralympic athletes, will lose the opportunity to participate in the Games due to shielding and health concerns. The Paralympics have always represented the core values of equality and courage, yet 2021 has the possibility to do the complete opposite. Should the Games go ahead if they do not provide an equal playing field for athletes?
Over the past year, Instagram pictures of gold medal-winning athletes completing home workouts in their garden have inspired the nation to get moving in lockdown. If this idea of inspiring others to improve both their physical and mental health is a cornerstone of Olympic values, then maybe the Games’ presence this coming summer will have a phenomenal impact on countries such as England which has seen 45% of women drop activity levels since 23rd March.
If the Olympics don’t go ahead this summer, minority sports will lose their funding. Prime advertising space will disappear, sponsors will drop out, and these sports which are already fighting for visibility will once again be shrouded in the darkness. This lack of exposure will undoubtedly impact minority sports that are already struggling. Women’s football, a sport which has skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years due to France’s World Cup and the likes of Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, will no longer be able to inspire women from all across the world to challenge gender norms and start kicking a ball.
Whilst writing this article I have realised that there is no right answer to whether this summer’s Games should take place. As an avid supporter of the Olympics, who caught the bug back as an 11-year-old inspired by Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah in 2012, I never thought that I would question the presence of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
For me, the Games have always displayed images of determination, dedication and respect but it goes without saying that Tokyo’s Games, if they go ahead, will look different from any Games that have preceded it. Tokyo 2021 will most likely be spectator-less; no cheering families or screaming fans will fill the stands and the number of participating athletes will most likely plummet due to cost.
I doubt that the ancient Greeks ever foresaw a socially distanced Olympics, so Tokyo will definitely be a depressing anomaly in the Olympics’ 2,700 years of history. However, even in a society as bleak as Nazi Germany, the Olympics managed to radiate its core values of excellence, friendship and respect. Could Tokyo 2021 do the same?
Image: Oliver Hopkins via Flickr