Eyes on Tokyo: The Latest Updates on Postponed 2020 Olympics

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As the sporting world looks on anxiously, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Tokyo 2020 organizing team have pushed ahead with their plans to host the Summer Olympic Games a year removed from their original dates this past summer. Yet as Japan continues to report rising daily numbers of new coronavirus cases (despite having comparatively low numbers throughout the pandemic) this week and the virus showing little sign of slowing down, it remains to be seen what the final execution of the Games, now scheduled for July 23 through August 8, 2021, will look like.

The IOC and the organizing committee have remained steadfastly optimistic in the face of COVID-19, which is predictably showing a strong global surge in the waning months of the year. This week, IOC president Thomas Bach paid a visit to the site of the Games in Tokyo, checking in on the development and logistical progression.

Despite the pandemic, Japanese and IOC officials have continued working on bolstering the Games with additional technology and social distancing protocol in an effort to create a sustainable and safe experience for athletes.

While the IOC has said it will not, at this point, mandate vaccination for incoming athletes, officials have encouraged athletes to undergo proper vaccination – if it is available in time – before traveling to Tokyo. The Committee has also come out in support of footing the bill for said vaccinations, but has reiterated the importance of ensuring that those who need vaccines the most have access to them first.

“The first priority has to be a vaccine for the nurses, the medical doctors and the people who keep our society alive,” Mr. Bach said. “If afterwards a vaccine is available, the IOC would bear the cost so that participants can be offered a vaccine.”

Of course, this would all fall by the wayside if a vaccine – and a widely available one at that – does not emerge soon. Though there is notable progress to report – Pfizer Inc. and its German partner, BioNTech, have emerged this week as frontrunners in the race to release a viable option, reporting 95% efficacy from the latest stage of trials – the final outcome of the race to produce a vaccine remains unknown.

Therefore, much of the analytics used throughout the Tokyo site development have centered around testing and contact tracing. From this, the question arises: what about spectators?

Throughout this year, several mainstream and lesser known sports have resumed some sense of normalcy. The NBA, NHL, MLB, and now the NFL have played hybrid seasons, in the case of the NBA bubble without a single positive test. While the World Series and some NFL stadiums have allowed limited numbers of fans, these events are largely spectator-less. Meanwhile in Japan, which for the majority of the pandemic had reported one of the statistically lower totals of cases and deaths, sporting organizations have slowly scaled back into welcoming spectators back in the stands.

Near the beginning of November, a baseball stadium in Yokohama was the staging site of logistical testing with a nearly full load of spectators. Making use of high-precision cameras, carbon dioxide-monitoring devices, and wind speed measuring, the officials were able to collect data to be sent back for use in guiding the decisions around the Olympics and the next season of sports.

These demonstrations of success were cause for IOC president Bach to express positive sentiments about the potential for a “reasonable” amount of spectators attending the Games. “You can organize safe sports events,” he said at a press conference. “We have seen in the professional leagues, particularly in baseball, games already under the restrictions now with spectators that have been very successful. Of course everybody in the Olympic Games would like a full house, a full-capacity stadium. But the top priority of the IOC and of the organizing committee has always been, and remains, to offer a safe environment – also for spectators.”

There will undoubtedly still be many more developments to come in the forthcoming months, as the pandemic has proven it’s anything but predictable. In the meantime, construction continues on the remaining infrastructure that will, with any luck, soon be home to new feats of athletic ability.