World

Amid a pandemic, the stage is set for an Olympics like no other

Japan, and the rest of the world, could do with some remarkable athletic feats to sideline Covid for a while

It is an Olympics that should be postponed again, detractors say; it is an Olympics that can inspire and lift spirits, its supporters argue.

It is the Covid-19 Olympics, some anguish; it is an Olympics that a majority in the host nation rejects.

It is an Olympics billboard lit up with names like Simone Biles, Caeleb Dressel, Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Singapore will show off Joseph Schooling.

It is an Olympics delayed for a year, shorn of other stars and it will be eerily devoid of spectators.

It is an Olympics that will be missing the intoxicating cocktail of noise and colour of the usual tourist mass mixed with the heady excitement of the locals.

The 2020 Olympic Games is set to officially open this evening in Tokyo and there is trepidation and expectation, and not the usual remarkable excitement.

It is almost certainly the first time such a mix of emotions is attached to the event, because a pandemic has swept the world.

It is an Olympics begging for other-worldly performances from its star names to make everyone forget Covid-19, briefly.

Yesterday, organisers said two athletes residing in the Olympic Village tested positive and there were 12 new infections overall, bringing the total to 87.

Japan's Emperor Naruhito acknowledged the difficulty of preventing the spread of coronavirus during the Games at a meeting with International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials, Reuters reported.

"Managing the Games while at the same time taking all possible measures against Covid-19 is far from an easy task," Emperor Naruhito told IOC President Thomas Bach and other IOC members.

Japan, whose vaccination programme has lagged that of most other developed nations, has recorded more than 840,000 cases and 15,055 deaths - and Tokyo is experiencing a fresh surge driven by the Delta variant, registering 1,979 infections yesterday, the highest figure since a winter wave.

Two-thirds of the Japanese people said they doubted that Japan could host a safe Games, with more than half saying they opposed the Olympics going ahead, according to a poll published by the Asahi newspaper, said Reuters.

Little surprise then that many in Japan are struggling to detect much Olympic spirit in the final countdown to a Games that is the first in modern history to be postponed, AFP reported yesterday.

"It is completely different from the last Games (in 1964) when the whole city was filled with festive mood," said 80-year-old native Michiko Fukui, as she strolled around the upscale Ginza district.

Local spectators are barred from almost all Games venues, with only around 900 people expected to attend the opening ceremony at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium today.

Scandals have also embarrassed organisers.

Yesterday, Tokyo Olympics organisers fired opening ceremony director Kentaro Kobayashi after reports emerged of a past joke he had made about the Holocaust, Reuters reported.

SEXIST

Earlier this year, the head of the organising committee resigned after making sexist remarks, and the Games' creative head followed after he made derogatory comments about a popular Japanese female entertainer.

Mr Satoshi Hori, a resident of the Koto neighbourhood, said he wondered whether his two young daughters would even remember the Games in coming years, given the low-key mood.

"I live in Koto where a lot of the venues are, but I don't feel any enthusiasm among my neighbours," said the 39-year-old, who plans to watch judo and baseball on TV.

"I hope my daughters will still remember the Tokyo Olympics years from now and that the Games was actually held in our city. That is about all I can expect."

For the first time, Singapore's contingent will feature a defending champion as Schooling, 26, looks to retain his 100m butterfly gold. He is among 23 Singaporean athletes set to do battle in Tokyo, among them 17 who will be competing at their first Olympics.

Table tennis star Feng Tianwei owns one silver and two bronze medals and at 34, is perhaps looking at a final hurrah.

The hope is the safety protocols instituted for the Olympics can contain the virus.And give the athletes the chance to turn in remarkable performances over the next two weeks for Singaporeans, Japanese and the rest of the world to soak in, and let it be

a balm for a while at least, while facing a difficult Covid-19 fight.

WORLD