Last year, I was excited. This year, I am skeptical.
As the Chronicle’s designated press member for the 2020 Olympic Games, I filled out all the paperwork way in advance, made sure my passport was current, took my requisite unsmiling press pass photo, wired money for a hotel, and set aside nearly a month on my calendar for when I’d be in Tokyo, from mid-July through mid-August. I bought the plane ticket around Christmas 2019.
But by February of last year, friends and I were texting things like, “Is this virus going to mess up the Olympics?” We thought we were joking. By early March, we knew it was not a joke. COVID-19 was going to mess up the Olympics, in addition to—and much more importantly, of course—impacting many, many lives. The actual cancellation came just a bit later, on March 23, 2020.
Sorry, not “cancellation.” It was a “postponement.” Organizers decided to push the Games back one whole year and try again in summer 2021.
So now here we are. It’s April 2021, and we still are preparing for the “2020” Olympic Games. I think so, anyway.
Every day I read articles with titles that mirror the questions inside my own head: “Are the Tokyo Olympics really going to happen?” asks ESPN.com. Fortune magazine wants to know, “Are the Tokyo Olympics actually going to happen?” “Are the Olympics still going to happen in 2021? Here’s what we know,” says a perhaps slightly more confident Vox.com. “Are you still going to the Olympics?” my mom asks me via text.
The answer in all those publications is basically, “We think so, but who knows?” That’s my answer, too. I resisted resuming my own preparation for travel until a few weeks ago, when it no longer became possible to keep doing that. It seems like the 2020/2021 Olympics might really happen. Maybe.
Even if the Games do kick off as planned on July 23, there’s no question it’ll be a different type of event. Foreign spectators aren’t allowed; athletes will be heavily restricted. Press members are allowed but, according to the first “playbook” that’s been released, have a list of forbidden activities that includes going to restaurants, riding public transportation, and basically doing anything or going anywhere other than a select few permitted locations. A positive COVID test result will send you straight to a quarantine facility. All of that makes sense; I think it’s smart.
But I’m not sure the right question is: “Will the Olympics happen?” or “How can we make the Olympics happen?” as much as “Should the Olympics happen?”
A survey conducted in Japan says the majority of citizens think not. It strikes me as profoundly odd that we’re preparing for this huge event in the middle of what is still a global crisis. I haven’t been on a plane since last March, and it’s likely the 11-hour flight to Tokyo would be my first time back on one. Do we, as a world, want to ease into this whole “normal” thing on a slightly smaller scale, maybe?
On the other hand, parts of the world are careening back towards normality, including my own small world: I’m now vaccinated and contemplating resuming risky activities, such as going inside a grocery store (still masked, of course), once my second dose has kicked in. And if the Games can take place, even without spectators and without much of the fanfare from previous events, they’ll no doubt boost the spirits of all who can still watch on TV and online.
With these unknowns remaining, the key to my preparation—and I’m sure for all the athletes who are dealing with this on a much more significant level—is flexibility. I finally bought a ticket, but it’s changeable. I blocked out my calendar again. If it happens, I’m ready.
But in the meantime, I’m throwing my own question into the void alongside those other publications: Are we really doing this?