On Olympic cancellation
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - February 29, 2020 - 12:00am

“Doing things out of an ‘abundance of caution’ isn’t a good idea… The risks, costs of the travel ban and some of the severe quarantines that we are seeing around the world, those have real consequences.”

– Dr. Tara Kirk Sell, Johns Hopkins Center for Preparedness

There is some deep, serious discussion about cancelling the Tokyo Olympic Games, which are mere months away, because of the threat of the COVID-19 virus spreading. This worrisome development will have gigantic impact on the Japanese economy, from the loss of billions of dollars invested in the Games infrastructure to the loss of advertising revenue, ticket sales, merchandising and other tourism-related income. In past Olympics, team sports like basketball and volleyball allowed organizers to fill up venues up to three times a day. Numerous small businesses will also suffer huge losses. The older Japanese are probably telling themselves, not again.

The modern Olympics have been cancelled three times. The 1916 edition slated for Berlin, Germany was cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I. Curiously, Berlin was also the site of the last Olympics prior to consecutive cancellations. The XII Olympiad was scheduled to be held in Tokyo in September of 1940, but World War II had erupted the year before. The 1944 Summer Olympics was originally slated for London in the United Kingdom. But the war was still raging in Europe and Asia, so the Games were scrapped. The Allied forces finally won the war in 1945.

More recently, there have been boycotts of the Olympics Games, which were caught in the middle of the political tug-of-war between the US and the former USSR. The United States protested the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and boycotted the Moscow Games of 1980. Canada, China, the Philippines, Chile and Argentina were among other countries that chose to join the protest. The Soviets retaliated by not joining the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. In the middle of all this, CNN founder and businessman Ted Turner created The Goodwill Games to provide a neutral ground for all to compete. It was a great public relations ploy by the media mogul.

Even terrorist acts have not been able to stop the Olympics. The murder of Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972 only caused the temporary postponement of selected events which still pushed through. The bombing of Centennial Park in the middle of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics only created a tense atmosphere, but halted none of the events. Centennial Park, a public area with free entertainment for those who did not have tickets for the competitions, was fenced in, and all those entering were screened. Media were discouraged from bringing any identification. This writer was in the park when the explosion took place.

According to the American Centers for Disease Control (CDC), influenza has made 13 million Americans sick, causing 120,000 to be hospitalized, and killing 6,600 in the US just this past winter. COVID-19 has, through mainstream media and social media, become the bogeyman of the new millennium. Though it is something to be feared, there is also substantial hysteria surrounding it, along with some conspiracy theories.

Some would see a cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics as necessary, as COVID-19 can be carried without symptoms. The potential for a pandemic is allegedly strong. But the fatality rate of two percent is quite low, and the Olympics are still months away. Also, the Games will be held in the higher temperatures of summer, which eliminates the virus much more easily. There is not enough time to move the Games to an alternate venue, anyway. So it’s a choice between postponing, pushing through or cancelling. One compromise suggestion is holding the events behind closed doors, with no crowds. This will at least salvage – possibly even increase – television revenue, albeit at the expense of live gate receipts.

Another option would be to require strict disinfecting protocols entering all venues, and even require all spectators to wear protective masks, bar none. That may be the soundest solution. As Judy Stone wrote in Forbes: “Hopefully the travel bans, which are not science based nor rational, will be quickly retracted. They may well worsen the toll of this outbreak.”

Tokyo still has time to come up with a solution.

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