As virus continues to bubble in Tokyo, our bar for measuring Olympic success drops lower
This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinions for CBC Sports. For more information on the CBC Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
By now, we are all aware of the financial incentives to host the Olympics in the midst of a resurgent coronavirus pandemic.
The price tag for hosting the Games in Tokyo swelled to US $ 15.4 billion, with normal overruns reduced by the cost of a one-year delay, pushing the budget to more than double its size. origin. This money is spent and it does not come back. Local organizers can’t get it back through ticket sales – the pandemic has canceled paid attendance – and there are no refunds available if, as reports speculated on Tuesday, COVID-19 forces a cancellation at mid-Games.
Each of that $ 15 billion is now what business people call a sunk cost.
Sponsors and broadcasters are also awaiting their return. Prior to the postponement, NBC had already sold a $ 1.25 billion in advertising for Olympic broadcasts. That money doesn’t flow if the Games don’t take place, and you can add that financial interest to the appeal of why this event was always going to happen, regardless of the number of cases in Tokyo or the low rate of vaccination.
But on Monday, just as the International Olympic Committee changed its motto to read “Faster, higher, stronger, Together, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga praised the games for their symbolic value, an example of unity amid a long list of depressing news and a pandemic that refuses to end.
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“The world is facing great difficulties,” Suga said at an IOC meeting in Tokyo this week. “We can bring success to the delivery of the Games.”
The success of this set of Olympic Games depends on how safe they are, which in turn depends on a flexible definition of this concept. The next three weeks will introduce us to new sports superstars and rediscover some more familiar ones, but they could also measure our ability to lower our standards.
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Remember March 2020, when Rudy Gobert and a handful of other NBA players tested positive for COVID-19, and how quickly the entire sports industry went into suspended animation. Compare this reaction to how we currently treat COVID-19 when it switches to sports – as an inconvenience and an occupational risk, such as tendonitis or a bruise in the thigh.
Two South African footballers tested positive in the Olympic Village?
That’s okay, as long as it’s not the whole team.
The entire U.S. women’s gymnastics team isolated after one member tested positive?
By Tuesday morning 71 people affiliated to the Olympic Games had tested positive for the virus, but that growing number shouldn’t bother anyone, right? Not until no one lands in the hospital and all events are on time, and sports broadcasters can provide viewers with enough live programming to bridge the gap between the MLB All-Star Game and the start of the football season.
Everything is fine, right?
Of course, except that members of the Olympic delegations are carefully and repeatedly tested for COVID-19, and the virus continues to bubble anyway. These statistics should tell us how stubborn and opportunistic this virus is and remind us that we are about to spend 16 days flirting with epidemics.
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If you care about the athletes as individuals, remember that every positive case among the competitors means a stunted Olympic dream. Teenage tennis phenomenon Coco Gauff wanted to compete in Tokyo, but she won’t make it after revealing she contracted the virus last week. She won’t even make the trip.
Product at risk
And if all you care about is your own entertainment, understand that the virus will end up hitting an athlete you care about, and harder than you want. We’ve seen him shake up the United States men’s basketball team before, with Bradley Beal missing the Olympics on COVID-19 and Zach LaVine in health and safety protocols. At one point last week, the favorite team to win gold could only have six healthy players – although three more were still making the NBA Finals.
So even if you don’t care about the people, you do care about the product. You put both at risk as you move forward with the Olympics in an average city nearly 1,200 new cases of COVID-19 per day. People look to the Olympics to watch the best of the best, not the best of those left behind after positive tests and contact tracing.
But it is too late to prescribe remedies.
As of Tuesday morning, information was released on the internet suggesting that the local organizing committee “would not rule out” the cancellation of the Games if the number of coronavirus cases continued to rise. But an actual quote from an Olympic official illustrates the gap in intent between seriously considering action and simply not ruling it out.
“We cannot predict what will happen with the number of coronavirus case. We will therefore continue discussions if there is a peak in cases “, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto told reporters through an interpreter. “That’s all I can say at this point.”
Granted, these are pandemic Olympics, so almost anything can happen. Between positive tests and protocols, I cannot rule out the possibility that Nathan Crumpton from American Samoa will win the men’s 100 meters, even though he’s 35, and hasn’t even cracked top 20 in school as a Princeton student, and his the best sport seems to be the skeleton. But if younger, faster guys get sick and others get stuck because of the protocol, we can’t exclude the possibility that a part-time sprinter could run 11.20 to win gold.
But Crumpton is also likely to stand on the podium that local organizers have to cancel this event because of the coronavirus. Largely possible but far from probable when $ 15 billion is already swallowed up, broadcasters are waiting for their ad revenue and a global audience wants content. The competition will continue, but qualifying it as a success may depend on how far you can drop your expectations.