Why We Need the Olympics in 2021

By Weldon Johnson
January 25, 2021

The world needs the Olympic Games more than ever.

Until last week I thought it was rather uncontroversial to think the Games would take place this summer in Japan. Afterall, that is what both the IOC and the Japanese government were saying; plus nearly every major sporting event in the world is currently going on as planned, albeit often without fans.

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Thus logically it seemed to be far from a stretch to assume the biggest sporting event in the world — the Olympic Games — would take place as well.

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Now I see not everyone shares my optimism. Polls started trickling out of Japan that said most of the Japanese public wanted the Games postponed or cancelled. Then, last Thursday an article in the Times of London cited one unnamed senior member of the ruling coalition of the Japanese government who said, “No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult. Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.” The article led with the statement that, “The Japanese government has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus.”

The Japanese government said the Times of London story was “categorically untrue.” Let’s hope that’s the case.

The Olympics are not just the biggest sporting event in the world. They represent what is best about the world. They remind us of our shared humanity. The judoka from Japan and the archer from the United States are both united as Olympians. “People are people.” Never has the nations of the world coming together been more important than after a year in which we were isolated and cut off from one another.

Let me repeat. The world needs the Olympic Games in 2021.

Surely we don’t need to be reminded of our humanity at the expense of life, but that is a false trade-off. We can hold an Olympic Games and we can hold them safely.

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One of the greatest things about humans is our ingenuity, and holding a successful Olympics Games is a way to prove it. We have not yet been able to conquer COVID-19, but we are learning ways to deal with it, and how to safely hold events we value during a pandemic. Millions of athletes have competed across the globe in sporting events during the last year safely. Millions of people have flown on planes safely.

Living in fear is not the best of humanity. Change the focus. Bring the brightest minds in the world together and start with the premise, “How can we safely hold one of the greatest events of the world?”

In the Times of London article, the unnamed senior member of the Japanese ruling coalition said, “If someone like President Biden was to say that US athletes cannot go, then we could say, ‘Well, now it is impossible’” and cancel the Games. Sorry, but passing the buck for making a tough decision is not the best of humanity. And saying “now it is impossible” is definitely not the American way, or the Olympic spirit.

President Biden, publicly announce you will do everything possible to send a US team to the Olympics and will commit any resources necessary to the Japanese to make it happen. With billions of dollars at stake for the Olympic movement, resources can be put towards making the Games as safe as possible.

Even though London is currently locked down due to COVID-19, the London Marathon announced last week it is planning on hosting 50,000 runners in-person this year. That is the spirit we need.

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In America, many said it would be impossible to have a college football season or an NFL season last fall. We’ve already concluded the college football season thanks to the players themselves saying they wanted to play when administrators said it wouldn’t be possible. The NFL season is heading towards the Super Bowl, with over a million fans in attendance across the league.

Will it be possible to have fans at the Olympics? That is for the Japanese to decide. But throwing in the towel six months before the Olympics, in the dead of winter with a virus that has a strong seasonal component as a vaccine rolls out is not the best of humanity.

“The important thing is not to win, but to take part,” said Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics. Taking part is never more important than this year. Let’s figure out how to do it.

Weldon Johnson is the co-founder of LetsRun.com. He tried to make the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, but came up short. He’s covered the 2012 and 2016 Olympics as a journalist.

Are you in favor of the Olympics being held? Do you want to be part of the solution or have idea on how to best safely conduct the Olympics? Post in this thread: Official We Want the Tokyo Olympics Thread (How Can We Make Them Happen Safely?)

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