To the left, glimpsed through the half-open window of the taxi rushing across the Rainbow Bridge over Tokyo Bay to a city in emergency, an empty grandstand looked desolate over the pontoon next to Odaiba Beach where the men’s and women’s Olympic triathlon competitions begin and end in the next two weeks.
Just off shore, five giant blue, black, red, yellow, and green interlocking Olympic rings lay above the water on a floating structure.
They were launched in January last year to fireworks and fanfare, but the Games were postponed and the rings had been in place for so long that they had to be taken down for maintenance and returned.
Tokyo Games will be an unknown spectacle as Tokyo grapples with the fight against Covid
The event will take place in front of empty stadiums, with the IOC desperate for cash
By the time they returned, after typhoon season, the anticipation had turned to a mixture of suspicion and fear.
This will be the Olympic Games of empty stands, not only on Odaiba Beach but in the beautiful Olympic Stadium in the Meiji-Jingu Park in the center of the city, in the Aquatics Center, in the Nippon Budokan, the Kokugikan Arena, the Ariake Urban Sports Park and all other locations in the city.
In Germany they call football matches played behind closed doors ‘geisterspiele’ or ghost games. This will also be the Ghost Games.
The Olympics are here, but they are not particularly welcome. They are a financial necessity for the IOC, which is desperate for the billions of pounds in broadcast revenue they generate.
They seem to have become an obligation for the Japanese government that they have reluctantly concluded must be fulfilled, but there is little enthusiasm among the local population.
Tokyo residents are far from happy that the Olympics are coming to the city during the pandemic
City struggles to advance its Covid vaccine program and residents fear
The opposite actually. IOC President Thomas Bach visited Hiroshima on Friday and was greeted with disdain.
“President Bach using the image of a peaceful world without nuclear weapons only to violently justify holding the Olympics during the pandemic is blasphemy for survivors of the atomic bombing,” said a statement on behalf of 11 anti-Olympic and pacifist groups .
Footage of the Olympic torch relay was shown on Japanese TV yesterday as it traveled around the Tokyo area. It has been banned on some public roads and there was only a few spectators. They met the torchbearers with polite applause.
There is more anecdotal evidence of general unease among the capital’s residents at the influx of tens of thousands of competitors and journalists from around the world at a time when Tokyo last week reported its highest six-month Covid-19 numbers and only 30 percent of the the population has had one injection.
Visitors are viewed with care. Haneda, one of the main gateways to Tokyo, looked more like a hospital than an airport last week.
It was teeming with medical officers in full PPE and a wing of one of the terminals had been converted into a giant testing center to process arrivals before being taken to their hotels by special buses and taxis.
In one of the official IOC hotels in Ginza, where many journalists stay, everyone involved with the Olympics has to use a different elevator than one reserved for Japanese guests. Guests involved in the Olympics are also instructed to pick up their breakfast in the dining room in a brown paper bag and eat it in their room.
The Olympics torch relay only got a little help along the way
They are also asked not to use the lobby to access the restaurant, but to exit through a back door, through a locked garage, and down an alleyway to a separate entrance.
The kindness and courtesy of ordinary people remains, but they are also wary.
And so the buzz that normally rages through an Olympic city in the days before the start of the Games is completely absent here. There will be no spectators in the arenas and Tokyo 2020 organizers also say they will restrict access around the Olympic Cauldron, the fan zones and fan activity centers. It threatens to become a curiously disembodied event, a spectacle that takes place in a country where no one can see it.
The hosts and the Games are separated before they even reach the altar. It is legitimate to argue that they should not have happened at all or should have been delayed by another 12 months.
The IOC says the second option is not possible and that due to financial constraints they were unwilling to support the first.
So we’re left with a Games that feels dragged from the ruins of what it could have been.
The argument against canceling Tokyo 2020, the reason many of us are still happy to go ahead, is simple. It’s the athletes.
Athletes must be extremely careful or risk five years of preparation turning into heartbreak
Sportsmen and women who have devoted five years of their lives to achieving these Games. Their dream was taken away once when the Games were postponed last year. Suffering the same fate a second time would have been unbearably cruel.
On Thursday, a British Airways flight carrying about 50 of the Team GB athletes landed in Haneda and it was impossible not to be excited – and nervous – for them.
All had to take tests on arrival and everyone knew that the consequences of a positive result were unbearable. For the rest of us, it would mean two weeks in a government facility. For the official in the Olympic Village who got his first positive case, it meant quarantine. For the athletes, it would be five years of dedication and dedication.
That is why the British Olympic Association is to be commended for making it their priority to get the athletes to the starting line.
The spectacle of watching astonishing talents like Simone Biles will have to save these Games
These Games are not so much about performance as before. Being here is the victory. Reaching the starting line or on the field or the judo mat is the victory.
That way maybe the Games will at least get back in touch with the old spirit. Some of the emotional backwater of the Games, which puts an athlete’s sacrifice into context and makes even more sense, will not be there.
Their families and loved ones have not been allowed to travel to see them in the proudest moment of their competitive lives. There will be no crowds to roar them.
They will have to hang their medals around their necks. They are tested every day for Covid. Their movements are controlled.
They are not allowed in the city’s bars and restaurants. A few days after they finish competing, they have to leave the country. But the athletes will still save this event. Be sure of that.
The Olympics shine a light on extraordinary people who inspire us with their efforts and their ability and that light will not be dimmed because of the obstacles placed in their path.
We will still be privileged to watch Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history and a woman whose grace and demeanor is enchanting.
We will still be watching Eliud Kipchoge in the men’s marathon. We will still be amazed at the daring of men like Adam Ondra, climbing in the new Olympic sport, and youngsters like Britain’s Sky Brown in skateboarding. For Team GB, our athletes are unlikely to come close to the 67 medals won in Rio de Janeiro.
History is still at stake as Laura Kenny could become Britain’s greatest ever Olympian
But during the first Games where there will be more women (201) than men (175) in the GB team, there will still be moments that will feel like glorious triumphs of the human spirit after struggling for so long with the limitations those caused by the coronavirus.
Rower Helen Glover, who has had three children since Rio 2016, is going for a third gold in the women’s pair with Polly Swann.
Laura Kenny, who is now also a mother, hopes to become the most decorated British female Olympian of all time, Jade Jones goes on to take taekwondo gold for the third time in a row and if Hannah Mills wins a medal, she will become the most successful female sailor in the world. the Olympics. history.
Stories of great triumphs against adversity will abound. So are stories of heartbreak and shattered dreams. These Olympics will be different and in some ways they will diminish.
But there is also hope that the world will see its athletes strive for something they have worked for so long and see in their joy and dedication, despite so many obstacles, a reason to celebrate the human spirit.