The Tokyo Olympics Is a Beacon of Hope in This Relentless Pandemic

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To say that the past year and a half has been rough is an understatement, but the world is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are proving effective. Societies and economies are slowly opening up. We are starting to get a taste of enjoyment again, especially with events such as the on-going Olympics. 

When the first reports of the novel coronavirus were broadcast to the public in early 2020, no one imagined that life as we knew it would end. Lockdowns – soft, hard, and everything in between – have become commonplace. Countless businesses and services have closed their doors. What we used to take for granted, we suddenly found ourselves earnestly yearning for, usually in vain. 

Every government has been under immense pressure to ensure the health and safety of its citizens while at the same time keep the economy’s head above the water. Naturally, entertainment was one of the first things to go. For what rational person would insist on being in the middle of a crowd when there’s a deadly, highly-transmissible virus going around? 

As the months dragged on, however, many of us suffered from the tiresome ordeal. There were moments when it seemed that things would go back to normal – correction, the new normal. And then another wave would hit.  

Back to lockdowns. Back to being cooped inside. Back to isolation. 

Those who believed that matters would settle down in a few months have been ruthlessly forced by nature to accept reality. The pandemic is not over. 

Still, thanks to the dedication of governments, scientists, corporations, to name a few, we are now starting to see glimmers of hope. In spite of the incessant beatings we have been receiving from COVID-19, there are some things that give us a boost when we need it the most. 

The sad thing is that some have suffered too much, some are too deep inside their own minds, to realize this. 

Take the Tokyo Olympics as an example. In normal times, hosting and carrying off this event is no mean feat. In the middle of a pandemic, it is something to marvel at. 

The road leading up to the 2020 Olympics was not easy. It was postponed a year later because of COVID-19. The Japanese people, like their peers around the world, had to face the harsh effects of the virus. They experienced other setbacks like Prime Minister Abe Shinzo stepping down. Fukushima – which was devastated by a nuclear incident about a decade ago – and its recovery is a highlight of the Olympics. It was, however, hit by a powerful earthquake in February, several weeks before the traditional torch relay was to begin. 

In the same month, former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori – the head of the Tokyo Olympics committee – stepped down because of sexist comments.  

One day before the event was to commence, Kentaro Kobayashi, creative director of the opening ceremony, was fired because of a joke about the Holocaust. This came to light when a video of one of his comedy routines in the 90s made the rounds. 

Furthermore, Japanese citizens were not throwing their support behind the Olympics. Quite the opposite – with a petition to “Stop Tokyo Olympics” gathering almost 500,000 signatures one week into the Olympics! Initiated by Kenji Utsunomiya, the campaign calls for the cancelation of the event to save lives, to focus on taking care of the Japanese people instead of diverting resources to the Olympics. 

Combine all the factors above – and then some – and the sentiments of the local populace is rather understandable. In May, 83 percent of Japanese voters said they think the Olympics should be canceled or postponed. As the Olympics started, the approval rating of current Prime Minister Suga’s cabinet sank to 34 percent

On the other hand, there are some encouraging numbers that seem to have been overlooked. In spite of the state of emergency in place during the Olympics, the country’s COVID-19 death rate has dropped 5 percent! And while citizens have been criticizing the government about slow vaccination, comparing it to other countries, Japan surpassed its “rival” Korea in inoculation rates in July.  

The numbers may not match, but one cannot ignore the intangible effects of the Tokyo Olympics, tipping the scales. 

Sports is a unifying force. And the Olympics is the pinnacle of global sporting events. In spite of the obstacles that it had to conquer before becoming reality, the Games is giving the world something we have not had in what seems to be an eternity: hope

The Olympics is a time when athletes can proudly represent their country. A time when they can showcase the fruits of their labor. It is the culmination of years upon years of hard work. 

And when we witness things such as a country winning a gold medal for the first time in history – the Philippines (women’s weightlifting) and Bermuda (women’s triathlon) – we can’t help but rejoice with them. Their victory is our victory. Their story a reflection of what we, as humans, have gone through. 

While the pandemic continues to rage around us, this little thing called the Tokyo Olympics is shining brightly like a beacon calling sailors to safety. It is calling out to anyone who would listen: “Herein lies solace from the storm; a display of the strength of the human spirit; a reminder that we can overcome.” 

As the Games continue, no doubt the detractors will continue. The pandemic will not end just yet. But it would do us all good to look to this beacon and celebrate the human race. 

To those who made the Olympics possible, we thank and salute you for this ray of sunshine you have given us. 

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