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The Olympic race (to vaccinate)

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - January 16, 2021 - 12:00am

Filipino national athletes have resumed training in earnest, many in preparation for the Olympic qualifiers that will run from March to June all over the world. The Philippine karate, boxing and taekwondo pools will enter the Philippine Sports Commission’s bubble in Calamba. Athletics will enter New Clark City in another week or so. The situation in other sports has yet to be cleared, although some have been training independently outside Metro Manila.

However, there is still deafening silence from the organizers of July’s Tokyo Olympics on whether or not they intend to push through with the Games. In various surveys among Japanese citizens since late last year, anywhere from 35 to 80 percent of them are against hosting the Olympics at this point in time. Despite the natural tendency of many Japanese to already wear masks, Japan is now one of the countries that Filipinos are banned from traveling to. This is in the aftermath of the new COVID strain. In a related story, there have also been unconfirmed reports that the Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi will likewise be waved off if the Olympics are cancelled.

But all of this may be remedied if enough vaccines are rolled out in time to give ordinary citizens peace of mind about being in potentially crowded places. All countries wish they could be like New Zealand, which earlier this week lifted almost all of its coronavirus restrictions after reporting no active cases in the country for 17 straight days. Under the early reopening, all schools and workplaces can now operate. Weddings and funerals may be held, and there are no limits to public gatherings. Public transportation can resume, completely without any restrictions. However, the country still remains closed to foreigners, and returning citizens must still undergo quarantine. But allowing outsiders will be the next step, proving that overcoming the virus can be done.

The question now is if there is enough time to vaccinate enough people in Japan and other places to reach critical mass for the Japanese people not to oppose the staging of the Games. Also, bear in mind that it takes weeks for the vaccine to be assimilated into the body. The first dose will take about 12 days to take effect, while the second dose will take about as long to complete one’s immunity. That shortens the time for reaching the tipping point. However, the Tokyo Organizing Committee has to make an announcement soon. National and local governments around the world are scrambling to each buy tens of millions of doses of the different vaccines. One cannot justly argue for the prioritization of athletes. And some will refuse to be vaccinated as, globally, their deployment is only under Emergency Use Authorization.

Given that a record number of Filipino athletes will qualify for Tokyo and many athletes will not go, does that automatically place an asterisk on any success the country earns? Do people still remember the tit-for-tat boycotts between the USSR and the US in 1980 and 1984? And if the hosts decide not to have live audiences, then the athletes can be separated in different hotels, avoiding close contact in an athletes’ village. Or countries could hire leisure vessels and dock at Tokyo International Cruise Wharf. The Dream Team’s done it before. Besides, the sports will not all be held at the same time, and we’re only talking about two and a half weeks.

Even if they lose tourism revenue, they can mail out memorabilia, and broadcast and below the line advertising will help cushion the economic blow and potential loss of face. The Olympic Program (TOP) is a four-year global partnership with multinational advertisers, which could be a big help. If the Japanese want to find a way, they will.

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