Wednesday, September 22News That Matters

Why ‘Cursed’ Olympics in Tokyo Are Pressing Ahead Amid Covid

The organizers scrapped their first logo after plagiarism accusations. The president of Japan’s Olympic Committee was indicted on corruption charges related to the bidding process. Out of fears of extreme heat in Tokyo, the I.O.C. moved the marathon to Sapporo, on Japan’s northern island, 500 miles from the Olympic Stadium.

Taro Aso, the country’s finance minister, has described the Tokyo Olympics as “cursed.”

For Japan, the prospect of recouping its costs has grown only more distant, after the Tokyo organizing committee said on Saturday that it would not allow foreign spectators. Without these visitors, there is now little upside for hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions.

The organizers say that their focus is primarily on safety, and that they have earmarked $900 million in spending on measures to combat the virus. They have watched in recent weeks as other major sporting events — the Australian Open, the N.C.A.A. men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — have gone ahead. For the Games, some countries are pushing Olympians to the front of the vaccination line, and the I.O.C. has agreed to supply Chinese vaccines for those who need one.

The organizers say vaccination will not be mandatory, however, and many athletes, delegates and others will be coming from places where vaccines are unlikely to be fully available. Japan itself will not start vaccinations for those over 65 until next month, and there has been no indication that athletes will be prioritized.

Infections and deaths in Japan have never spiraled to the levels seen in the United States or Europe, but the country is still recording more than 1,000 new infections each day and dozens of deaths. The Tokyo region was under a state of emergency until Sunday, and the country’s borders remain closed to most overseas visitors.

With more contagious and perhaps deadlier variants circulating around the globe, epidemiologists warn that the Tokyo Olympics have the potential to turbocharge the virus’s spread.

Controlling the pathogen will be “almost close to mission impossible,” said Dr. Kentaro Iwata, an infectious disease specialist at Kobe University Hospital. “Canceling the Olympic Games would be much easier.”