It’s been five years since the last Olympic games, in Rio de Janeiro. That’s already a year too long, because they were due to be held in Tokyo last summer, before Covid intervened. The plan at the time was to push them back a year, and hold them this summer instead.

Alas, nope, says the Japanese Government:

Reuters is reporting the Japanese government has privately concluded the 2021 Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The news agency quoted The Times newspaper citing a senior ruling coalition member.

The Japanese government’s focus was now on securing the games for Tokyo in the next available year, 2032, the newspaper said….

…..With the world in a race against time to immunise entire populations, close to 80 per cent of Japanese people believe the Olympics, already postponed by a year, should be delayed again, The Telegraph reported.

The IOC expected 6000 athletes at the opening ceremony, down from an initial figure of about 11,000, it said.

Six thousand young people, from all around the world, plus TV crews, and dignitaries, and caterers, and advertisers, and the whole Olympic circus, piling into one of the largest Cities on the planet, during the heat of August?

Yeah, you can see why the Japanese might be getting second thoughts. It’s got all the ingredients to be the single largest super-spreader event in world history.

Or does it?

August remains some months away. In terms of scale, the Olympics is big, but it’s tiny in terms of the global population. Given that most countries plan to have distributed vaccines to a large portion of their populations by August, is there really no way the Olympics can go ahead? Would there really be a massive public backlash if Olympic Athletes, and proposed attendees from each country, were bumped up the vaccine que a bit? Not in front of the really old and vulnerable, obviously, but maybe in between the 45-55’s and the 35-45’s?

The Olympics are, of course, wholly unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But in their own way, they’re very important: There are a generation of athletes who’ve worked their whole lives to be in the very peak of their conditions and careers for this year’s Olympics. Somewhere in Siberian Russia, there’s a weightlifter who you’ve never heard of who had worked their whole life for these Olympics. Somewhere in Ethiopia, there’s a runner. And on it goes. In 2024, some of those athletes will be past their prime, and Covid will have stolen their only chance to make history on a global stage.

And it’s not just the Athletes – the wonder of the games is that they highlight to a transfixed audience all kinds of weird and kooky sports we’d never heard of. Did anyone in Ireland even know what a lightweight double scull was, until the O’Donovan brothers won silver in 2016?

Other sports, incidentally, are managing just fine. Formula One – the very definition of a global sport, and a travelling circus – managed to hold 17 races in 14 different countries last year, at the height of the first wave. They’re planning 23 races, in 23 different countries, starting in March this year. The UK football season is proceeding almost as normal. The Superbowl will be held, three weeks from Sunday, in the USA. We had a full league and championship season in the GAA here at home. All of those events are going ahead without crowds because, let’s face it, most of the money comes from the TV audience anyway.

Are we really incapable of managing the Olympics?

It’s by no means the biggest loss of 2020, or 2021, but it’s really sad to see the Olympics go. And it’s hard to believe that it wouldn’t be possible to let them go ahead, with a small bit of effort and imagination. Even if you don’t like sports, they’d have been enjoyable – there’s always some super cheating drama involving a Russian swimmer taking drugs (Irish swimmers wouldn’t do that sort of thing), or a good political row about a transgender woman competing in woman’s sports, or something like that.

Oh well. If any Olympics had to be cancelled, at least it’s the Tokyo Olympics. All the good stuff would likely be on in the middle of the night, anyway, thanks to Japan’s frankly unreasonable insistence on positioning itself on the other side of the world.