The Olympics start in two months … Why?
On what planet is this a good idea?
We are fewer than two months from the opening of the 2020-21 Summer Olympics, a convocation of athletes from more than 200 nations which is being hosted in one of the most densely populated cities in the world in a nation that has only 2% of its population vaccinated from global pandemic that had been raging for 15 months.
What in the world are we doing here?
The straight-up answer is that NBC pays a ton of money to broadcast the Olympics in the United States, a factor which gives the network an outsized influence on the International Olympic Committee. NBC waited one year because it had to. It’s not waiting a second year.
NBC is part of a corporate Goliath with television shows to promote across different networks and platforms and a ton of advertising already sold to show during the upcoming Tokyo Games. (Spoiler alert: NBC ain’t giving the ad money it sold back.)
But step back for a moment. Tokyo is expecting athletes from 206 countries, presumably in varying stages of COVID-19 awareness and vaccination, starting with the opening ceremonies on July 23. All these athletes will mix and mingle in an Olympic Village with everyone else, march into the stadium all at once as the flame is lit and then spread out through Tokyo to compete in their events.
Remember that we’re only talking the athletes, not the coaches, the training staffs of all the countries, not to mention media, athletic officials, all the people who make the venues go and fans, yes, fans because Tokyo needs to make up some of the money they spent on these games.
How is this not a super-spreader event?
Before everyone starts yelling about how these athletes have been working for four years — and then five — for these games, I get it. Of course, we want these athletes to pursue their dreams in this limited time window afforded the participants.
But at some point, don’t we have to be logical about this? This is not a United Nations peace summit integral to the survival of Earth. It’s the Olympics, a celebration of the integrated nature of the world, a noble but not critical event.
So, yes, we should probably bag the 2020/2021 Olympics in Tokyo. The IOC can say that Tokyo gets 2032 with Paris and Los Angels already hosting in 2024 and 2028, respectively. (Won’t happen. In addition to NBC’s pressure, everyone affiliated with the Tokyo Games needs them to go off to justify all the money the organizing committee has spent.)
Tokyo will happen, as will the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing for all of us who rightly think winter sports are superior to their summer counterparts.
Sports and its place
But how does a sports fan comprehend the world’s largest sporting event — World Cup soccer is No. 2 with World Cup skiing being a distant 27th or something like that —going forward when it shouldn’t?
Sports is my living. I need sports to happen to have a job, a factor that came to my attention last summer when the Vail Daily furloughed me. (I played a lot of golf so it wasn’t too bad.) Not only does sports put food on the table, but it’s my passion.
So I find it really difficult to welcome and enjoy an event like the Summer Olympics which really seems to be a pre-made vehicle for disaster. Simply put, I don’t like to come to sports to feel bad about the world, but it does happen. It’s not the only time during the last 15 months.
Pro sports returning? Just like the Olympics, MLB, the NFL, NBA and NHL came back because the money was on the table and the athletes have advocates, be they their agents or a union, to advocate for their welfare. Yes, the conclusions of the 2020 seasons in basketball and hockey were weird and last year’s baseball season was a joke, but it was fine.
NCAA sports were troubling, particularly bumbling parade that was college football. Yes, these kids are getting scholarships, but they are also pieces of meat without advocacy to the schools. The FBS schools simply went ahead without regard to the welfare of their players.
Yes, there were numerous moments in the fall and winter chronological seasons when I was scratching my head wondering why the heck we were holding a sporting event.
I know we were trying as a society to keep things as “normal” as possible for the student-athletes, but there was no vaccine back in October and November. I love football, but I found myself stepping outside of my body, viewing the scene and shaking my head. And, I was simultaneously saying to myself, “Shut up, Freud. You need a job.” Obviously, I was conflicted.
As we gathered in gyms and rinks, wearing masks — how in the heck is a player meant to play basketball with a mask on, seriously? — to watch hockey, basketball and wrestling, I felt the same. Even with high school hockey and the glorious result for which we had all been waiting, it still felt really out of place. (For the record, keep the trophy, Battle Mountain. We are never giving that trophy back.) On another note, how the heck do you wrestle safely in the time of a pandemic? Never figured that one out.
Expanded vaccination has coincided with the turn of weather which has understandably brightened everyone’s outlook. We gather on idyllic spring days outside for baseball, lacrosse and soccer and track and field with ease and we’re turning a corner seemingly.
And who knows in the Age of COVID-19? If we’ve learned anything, everything moves quickly in this crisis, positively or negatively. Two months ago, we all probably would have laughed at the thought that the vaccine would be available to all who want it and that we’re walking around without masks in most places.
I fervently hope for such a transformation with the Tokyo Olympics, though I’m not overly optimistic.
The toll of this pandemic has been staggering, however we measure, be it loss of life, economic harm and/or social impact. Personally, I’m feeling the third the most. We do need sports to bring us together, but this isn’t the way.