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Tokyo ... the Olympics no one's quite sure about

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·5 min read
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TOKYO — Hotel rooms here measure 121 square feet (or smaller), which is actually pretty spacious living quarters if you consider your time in the womb.

This is Tokyo though, so just be thankful if the air conditioning is working because it’s about 212 degrees on the sidewalk outside. But don’t worry, it’s a wet heat.

The only thing dry around here is the bar scene — shuttered due to Covid protocols. Alcohol sales have been suspended by the government to stop the spread. Even restaurants with no sake service must close by 8 p.m. This is making the Salt Lake Olympics seem like Vegas.

Not that there are many tourists. Most foreigners have been banned from coming here, and those that were allowed can’t do much outside of their hotels.

Officially, Japan says it has spent about $15.4 billion to host these Olympics, but estimates are far higher. One reason was the anticipated business boom that would come with it. The hotel industry, for example, constructed new towers and renovated old properties. Now it’s staring at between 700,000 and 1 million cancellations, per the Japan Times.

“This latest hit will very likely trigger more bankruptcies,” economist Hideo Kumano told the Japan Times. “And you can’t dismiss the impact on the national mood of making the Olympics spectator-less.”

This country is skittish and unhappy. Gallows humor passes the time.

Covid cases are up about more than 50 percent week over week. The Prime Minister’s approval rating is comparable to that of spoiled fruit. No one is allowed to attend the actual Games.

It’s so bad that Toyota, arguably Japan’s biggest brand, pulled all its advertising in Tokyo for these Japanese Olympics so it wouldn’t anger the actual Japanese. A bunch of other businesses followed suit or said their CEOs wouldn’t attend any events.

It’s the Tokyo Olympics that Tokyo doesn’t want to host.

Despite what organizers project outwardly, the country of Japan is skittish and unhappy about hosting these Olympics. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Despite what organizers project outwardly, the country of Japan is skittish and unhappy about hosting these Olympics. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

You can hardly blame them. If you’re a waitress who just got laid off, you’re probably not full of Olympic spirit.

It’s a shame, of course. This is a beautiful city in a modern, exciting country. It should have been great. Now, no one knows. Olympic officials just shrug their shoulders and express hope that the Games will go on without too much disruption.

In hindsight, holding this during the dead of summer in a tropical metropolis, with a pandemic still raging, in a country where less than 30 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, wasn’t such a good idea. Or maybe this didn’t even require hindsight.

The poor athletes. They spend their lives training for this moment only to have to huddle and hide in the Olympic Village trying to avoid each other and the Delta variant.

The testing is as relentless as the virus, so with positives, false positives and contact tracing, anyone and everyone could be eliminated at any moment. It’s like the Hunger Games: Swab Edition.

Here we have — almost literally — the finest collection of healthy, active and fit humans on this earth. Every country sent the best of their best. Most of them are young and vaccinated.

Yet they may have their dreams dashed because the Olympics are in a country where the government couldn’t get out of its own way and get enough people vaxxed so that citizens didn’t have to worry that some rugby player sneezing somewhere might somehow lead to grandma getting sick.

Perhaps the best move would have been to stage events all over the world, or wherever the virus isn’t all encompassing as it is here. Track in L.A. Gymnastics in London. Swimming in Sydney.

Just spread it out. The social distance Olympics. It’s just a TV show anyway.

The IOC wasn’t going for that though because: a) it’s easier to accept bribe money in one central location and b) the beauty of the Olympics — and this is, in normal times, true — is that it brings the world together.

Kids are always mesmerized when they first hear about things like marching behind your nation’s flag or living at the Olympic Village. Doesn’t matter if you are from Kansas or Kazakhstan.

This isn’t that, however. Athlete attendance at the Opening Ceremony will be way down. The legendary mixer of the dining halls is nearly non-existent — one time Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi met up at a humble cafeteria table, with everyone else looking on in awe. And there is almost no chance roaming around the courtyard and wind up chatting up a weightlifter from Burma or a diver from Brazil or Simone Biles.

That’s the Olympic experience. So is the chance to tour historic sites or hit up quaint corner lunch spots or have your actual family come and watch and cheer and cry.

Instead athletes are eating alone in their rooms and trying to avoid each other.

Look Japan, just because it’s called the 2020 Olympics doesn’t mean you need to actually turn the clock back to 2020.

Will this thing make it? And if so, in what form? How many athletes will be tested out? Could entire events get cancelled? Entire teams?

Literally no one knows. On Tuesday, the head of the local organizing committee didn’t rule out still canceling the entire thing — which seems impossible.

There’s a plan, but no one believes in it. They’re testing to stop Covid, but you can ride a crowded bus for a couple hours. There is no solution. You either stage this and give up on the virus or you try to stop the virus and give up on the Games.

Most of what is being done is performance art, mainly so the Japanese government can try to save face with the Japanese people.

It’s still great for the IOC execs such as Thomas Bach over at the Ritz, of course, where the closets, not the rooms, are 121 square feet. They no doubt even have booze.

For everyone else, it’s hot, tense and uncertain.

We haven’t even really gotten started and these Olympics sure could use a drink. If only the bars could serve some.

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