buruma174_Yuichi YamazakiGetty Images_tokyoolumpicsprotest Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images

What Is the Point of the Olympics?

Tokyo in 2021 surely doesn’t need the Olympic Games. And yet, even during a pandemic, the Olympic army marches on, upholding its only ideal: making enormous amounts of money for itself, for sponsors, for property developers, and sometimes for corrupt politicians.

NEW YORK – Kaori Yamaguchi, an Olympic medalist in judo and an executive member of the Japanese Olympic Committee, made an astonishing statement – astonishing, that is, for an Olympic official. She said that Japan had been “cornered” into holding this year’s Games during a pandemic: “What will these Olympics be for, and for whom? The Games have already lost meaning and are being held just for the sake of them. I believe we have already missed the opportunity to cancel.”

She is not alone. A top Japanese medical expert warned that the Games could trigger fresh COVID-19 outbreaks, and that going ahead under present conditions would “not be normal.” Over 80% of the Japanese population want the Games to be either postponed or canceled. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper, an official sponsor of the Games, has urged the government to abandon the enterprise. If the Games do go ahead, which seems most likely, the events will take place in mostly empty stadiums built at huge expense.

Yamaguchi’s question is a valid one. For whom are the Olympics? The athletes already have ample opportunity to compete in all kinds of international championships. And the Japanese should not pay the price for entertaining television viewers. Perhaps the Games are for Japanese politicians who hoped the spectacle would burnish their prestige, or for the fat cats of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), those blazered worthies who believe their juggernaut’s interests should trump those of everyone else?

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