Pierre de Coubertin, the mastermind behind the Modern Olympic Games, dreamed of an international sports competition that would enlighten a world immersed in conflict and colonial wars.
Despite his resistance, the realities of the early 20th century capitalist accumulation and technological advancement started to pervade “his” games since its first editions and became inexorable by the 1930s.
While nowadays we tend to remember the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games through images of an upset Adolf Hitler after African-American track and field athlete Jesse Owens’ victory, the period’s daily news’ narratives were ruled by an exaltation of the Nazi regime. This ultranationalist ideology emerged far beyond Coubertin’s “internationalist ideals.”
The Nazi Games were saturated by the swastika and the Nazi salute, among other captivating images and enactments of the fascist state controlled by the National Socialist party. All of this under the complacent watch of Coubertin and the International Olympic Committee, who undeniably supported and gave their consent for the Nazi Games to go ahead.
During the 1936 Games, two American Jewish athletes, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, were removed by their coaches from the 4×100 relay a few hours before the contest. This was the fate of several Jewish athletes during the 1930s.
While Hitler prepared the Berlin Games, in 1933 the Nazis opened their first concentration camp in Dachau. In the three years before the Games, waves of persecutions, forced sterilization, and arrests of homosexuals, handicapped, Jews, and other “non-Aryans” took place in the Third Reich.
Games During Jim Crow
Although Owens’ and other African-American athletes’ brilliancy in the Nazi Games challenged the Aryan ideal of superiority, Coubertin had already sustained two earlier editions of the Games in the US.
The 1904 Saint Louis Games and the 1932 Los Angeles Games were held during the validity of the Jim Crow Laws, which between 1877 and 1964 guided the segregation of Blacks and whites in public spaces.
Later on, in 1972, the then International Olympic Committee president insisted the Munich Summer Olympics go ahead, despite the assassination of the Israeli athletes perpetrated by the Black September terrorist group. After an interruption of 34 hours, the athletes went back to the courts and fields to “celebrate life.”
This brief historical account suggests the history of the Olympic Games is also the history of its “non-postponement.” The Olympic agenda and ideology have been naturalized, underlined by its economic determinations that induce a state of exception where everyday political rules do not apply. Moreover, the “Olympic ideal” should prevail over anything else — including life.
The Tokyo Denial
In February, a survey found that 80 percent of the Japanese people do not want the Tokyo Games to go ahead. These numbers have not lessened in more recent months, and the Japanese public continues to be worried about the consequences to their health system if the Games prompt widespread infections.
As Japan’s comprehensive health system is fundamentally based on early detection and disease prevention, the public’s concern is understandable. They fear there won’t be enough medical facilities to care for the infected people who become seriously ill.
In late June, in an unusual public statement, Japanese Emperor Naruhito disclosed his deep concerns about the coronavirus’ spread during the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Another relevant voice within Japanese society recently added his worries with the Games to the Emperor’s fears: in an interview with CNN, CEO of tech giant Rakuten and a relevant voice within the Japanese business sector Hiroshi Mikitani called the games a “suicide mission.” In his interview, Mikitani revealed that he tried to alert the government about the risks of the mega event, saying that there was no more time for mass vaccination. He tried to persuade them to postpone or cancel it, but with no success.
On the other hand, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is adamant about proceeding with the event. Committee President Thomas Bach recently declared that his organization’s job is to consolidate and put together a majestic sports show, not to cancel it.
With its hands tied by the contracts the country signed with the IOC and fearing a major economic disaster, the Japanese government sustains the event.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to subside around the world. In many countries, vaccination rates are low while infection levels are high. Even in regions such as Europe — where the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship was delivering the impression that life was going back to normal — COVID-19 is enduring, with thousands of football supporters linked to football-related infections.
Australia, where the pandemic appeared to be under control, has lately seen its major capitals and other regional cities back to strict lockdowns. Furthermore, countries from Germany to Israel are facing issues with the Delta variant of the virus.
Nevertheless, despite all the evident major health threats to Japan and the international community, the Games are going ahead. It appears that the world is in a type of “Tokyo denial” state of mind.
In spite of its potential to be a super spreader event, disseminating new strains during the competition, and then around the world when the athletes, coaches, and journalists are back in their countries, it seems there is nothing that can stop the #PandemicGames.
The International Olympic Committee is the guardian of the Olympic Movement, which aims to promote the Olympic philosophy much beyond the Games. Known as Olympism, this philosophy of life’s objectives are to create a balanced way of life, combining body, will, and mind. Moreover, Olympism aims to promote “the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”
Much research has been undertaken about the questionable legacy of mega sports events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games or the FIFA World Cup. Researchers have demonstrated how these events can disturb communities and their housing rights or access to public education.
Despite such allegations, the IOC has constantly promoted its events’ values and positive legacies, from economic but also educational and social perspectives. These values, plus the Games’ clear economic determinations and financial implications, keep both Japanese community and the world at large captive.
According to this logic, the Tokyo Games must go ahead, whatever it takes. Regardless of the pandemic and irrespective of the fact that it is hard and probably impossible to create a giant and perfect sporting bubble to control the virus: the show must go on.
The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics appear to be more important than the billions of human lives across the planet.
Last Plea to Halt the Games
We challenge this logic. Here we add our voice to the hundreds of thousands who already petitioned to stop the games to save their lives. It seems pretty straightforward that an institution that aims to promote and respect universal ethical principles would try, first and foremost, to protect lives.
It might look naïve, but here we launch the last plea to stop the “IOC Pandemic Games.” Despite the economic determinants, canceling still seems to be a better option. From a political point of view, this gesture would signal the IOC’s long-lost appreciation for popular sovereignty, the recommendations of the scientific community, democracy, and the values formerly defended by its founding father.
Japan, in turn, would go down in history as the first country that exemplarily “said no” to the economic reason that guides the contemporary Olympic Movement.
The world does not need another “legacy” as the Nazi Games’ one – destruction and death. Hence, the only way to keep loyal to the Olympic charter to celebrate life is to say “no” to the 2020 Tokyo Games.
The Tokyo cancelation will be then its real legacy.
#pleasestopthegamesDisclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.