I'm writing this while watching the women's single sculls and men's double sculls in the rowing regatta at the Olympics. Olympic records are already falling. The opening ceremony is a few hours off. And the starter gun will finally fire for Tokyo 2020, in 2021.
All the negative stories and positive tests will surely melt away as we bask in the warmth of athletes at the top of their game striving with every muscle to make the podium. But the Olympics is as much about inclusion, too, representing your nation, the world, the spirit of sport. The person finishing in eight place in the first round of heats is, perhaps like no other sporting event, still a winner. They got there, after all, and in the end.
We are all winners if the Olympics proceed, not as planned - that much is clearly impossible - but at all. The world needs this. There may be no spectators in the stands, which I think is a mistake, and the time difference means sleepless nights for viewers outside Asia. But we can take part, too, our spirits uplifted by human effort and endeavor, strength, prowess and skill on show, the best of our species in many ways, and a collective event we can all share.
My fellow news professionals have fed on every negative story in the runup to Tokyo 2020/2021. It's a trite and familiar path. The Games are too expensive. They're infested by politics. Taiwan can't be called a country. Athletes defect. And for the first time, they infect.
"I really want to apologize from my heart for the accumulation of frustrations and concerns that the public has been feeling towards the Olympics," Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo organizing committee, says.
She knows the Games. Hashimoto, quite incredibly, represented Japan at four straight winter Olympics as a speed skater and three straight summer Games as a sprint cyclist. She is now a member of parliament, and coincidentally was born in 1964, the last time Tokyo hosted the Games. Her name, Seiko, is even a reference to the Olympic flame, or seika in Japanese.
Tokyo has had the Olympics cancelled before, one of three times that scheduled Games have been called off. The 1940 Games did not go ahead as planned due to World War II. It was 24 years and six Olympic cycles before Tokyo finally did host the Games in 1964.
War also caused the 1916 Games in Berlin to be called off. Neither winter nor summer Games took place in 1940 or 1944, when the summer Games were supposed to take place in London.
It used to be a competitive business to host the Games. But not good business. Brisbane was given the 2032 Games on Wednesday, and it was the last city running. The Olympic committee claims the two weeks in the Queensland capital will cost US$5 billion, and bring in US$17 billion in economic benefit. That's sure to be nonsense.
It's been well-established that hosting creates a huge money pit, in which host cities thrown billions and often end up with little in return. The main legacy is the infrastructure, the venues and Olympic Village.
The Tokyo Games are estimated to have cost US$30 billion, up from the original US$12.6 billion budget, including an additional US$800 million expense due to the postponement of the event. Organizers have had to pay back ¥90 billion (US$815 million) in ticket sales to people who can longer attend.
At least in Tokyo, the city was wise enough to "recycle" venues from the 1964 event, facilities that have been in use for a variety of purposes ever since. There were 13 newly built venues for Tokyo 1964, which also used 12 venues that already existed back then. All 25 will be press-ganged into use, often repurposed, in 2021. That means there are only eight permanent venues built from scratch this time (10 are new but temporary). It's the first Games to re-use so many structures. But it makes eminent sense.
The Yoyogi National Stadium, for instance, is a wondrous building of sweeping curves, one that made its architect, Kenzo Tange, a national name. It looks like a spaceship touched down in the city center, with a suspension canopy that was groundbreaking at the time. It was developed for swimming and diving in 1964, has been used as an arena for ice hockey and basketball, and is one of the meccas for J-Pop concerts. Now it will host handball in 2021.
The Olympic Village along the Harumi waterfront on Tokyo Bay will be sold off as apartments. Mitsui Fudosan (MTSFF) is the lead developer of Harumi Flag, a total of 23 buildings that will morph into 5,600 condos, a school and a park after the 11,000 athletes clear out. Buyers of the apartments have had to push out the original 2023 occupancy date by a year.
That's how to do it. Of course, Tokyo has a population of 14 million in the city prefecture, 37 million in the greater metropolis. So it has the body mass to absorb and use large sporting locations. Athens, often cited as an example of a failed Games financially, has 3.8 million people at most in the metro area, and only 665,000 in the city center. It is left with monuments, not ongoing events.
We're starting to measure not only the economic but also the environmental cost of holding the Games. There's a lot of concrete poured in building stadia for events such as the soccer World Cup and the Olympics. Reusing venues and making sure new ones can continue to serve a purpose is key.
Could the Games have gone ahead with fans? To my mind, they could. The Games do bring the risk of new infections among any crowd and also competitors. But cancelling the Games, and the current cancelling of fans, does not cancel the virus.
There will still be an additional 78,000 officials, support staff and media entering Japan to attend. That's some serious fat and International Olympic Committee fat cats when you consider there are only 11,000 people actually taking part.
The positive numbers inside the Olympics "bubble" are what are grabbing the attention. There are 106 positive COVID-19 cases among those in attendance as of Friday's update, although only 11 of them are competitors. Overall, that's a positive-test rate of 119 per 100,000 people.
But it is not like those taking part in and attending the Games are bringing COVID-19 to Japan. It is already there. The country is already contending with a fifth spike in cases. Infection rates are not yet hitting the previous peaks from January and May (when daily cases hit 6,446 and 6,460, respectively) but are well on their way.
As a nation, Japan reported 5,366 new cases on Thursday, and the weekly average has doubled compared to two weeks back. If we run Thursday's number out for the two weeks that most athletes have been in Japan, we get a figure of 59 positive cases per 100,000 people in all of Japan. That's lowballing it, since the vast majority of cases are in the biggest cities, chiefly Tokyo and Osaka.
These are not cases imported by the athletes, who haven't been there long enough to have caused infection spikes yet. Japan is experiencing a fifth wave that would have taken place whether the Games went ahead or not. People would get infected whether they sat in stands or not.
Euro 2020 just wrapped up a highly successful tournament, with some great soccer. Until of course Italy won, robbing England of their first major tournament win since 1966 (I'm a Brit)... Fans had to show vaccination or COVID-free proof to get in. Some of the stadiums were half-full, some full. All had fans.
There were plenty of questions asked about the wisdom of hosting the event across the continent of Europe, with 11 cities from London and Glasgow holding matches, all the way east to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, 3,500 miles away from Scotland. That's further than the distance between London and New York City, across the entire Atlantic. The environmental cost, the risk of infection, the extreme complexity of figuring out which fans could travel to where based on their country of origin, and the quarantine rules in their destination...
Quite honestly, it all went away when the first whistle blew. Few people will remember those issues years down the line. We plan vacations down to the last dollar but on reflection rarely remember the cost once we're done. We will need to explain in the future why Euro 2020 has that asterisk next to it, and why the world records about to be set in Tokyo really happened in 2021.
But it's the sport and human endeavor that I hope we remember, and Tokyo being game enough to go ahead with perhaps the most-difficult sporting event to ever be held. The ceremony will shortly start, and I can't wait.
Let the Games begin!