Games doomed - for now

Editorial | Mary Ma 24 Mar 2020

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has bowed to pressure, admitting the 2020 Tokyo Olympics may have to be postponed.

Mind the word "may."

Even though Abe sounded non-committal to a postponement, it's already a foregone conclusion that the Olympic Games, held every four years, won't take place in Tokyo as planned this summer.

These are tactics that government policymakers often use to prepare their citizens for a shock should a dire situation become inevitable.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson applied did similar when he strongly urged people to keep at least two meters apart whenever they are in public. When drinkers and fitness fans continued to swamp to pubs and gyms, he shut them down - and nobody could blame him.

With Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor yesterday urging Hongkongers to maintain social distance and advising bars and restaurants to help achieve that, it's anticipated the administration will soon go further to close these facilities if the crowds continue.

Advisories are often preludes to draconian measures.

Abe's soft U-turn statement was hardly surprising as he knew many Japanese would be disappointed if the Olympic Games - the most important international event for the Japanese this year - has to be cancelled.

Very soon, a formal announcement will be made to substitute "may" with "will."

The hard truth is that the International Olympic Committee and Abe have no choice but to postpone the 2020 Games.

When the coronavirus was still confined to Wuhan and other Chinese cities, they were still betting on a miracle.

But hopes of the novel coronavirus receding vaporized quickly as the disease kept spreading around the world.

Instead of a being a short-term crisis, it's going to be a long-term fight for the planet, dragging on for a longer period than previously thought.

Will the battle last for several more months or even a year? It all depends on how soon a vaccine is found.

The inevitable postponement of the Olympics will be a blow to athletes who are in their prime.

Nonetheless, uncertainty is the new reality that athletes and the public now have to accept.

That's also a harsh lesson for students who face either delayed or totally cancelled exam schedules, depending on which public exams they have signed up to.

After a vaccine is found and the pandemic passes, the world will be rejoicing and there will be nothing to stop Japan hosting probably the most successful games in recent years to celebrate a new, post-pandemic era.

Japan's own audit estimated the country has invested over US$22 billion (HK$170 billion) in readying the games - that's US$9.7 billion above budget. Tokyo is hoping to recover a large part of the cost, if not the total spend.

If the IOC and Tokyo government insisted on holding the games as scheduled, the investment would be doomed to go bust because nobody would be willing to take the risk of traveling, even if border bans were lifted.

Abe has now accepted the reality and is sounding out how to mentally prepare his citizens for the inevitable.

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