On September 7, 2013, when Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 Olympics, Japan erupted in joy. The city had hosted the Games in 1964, and the opportunity to host their second Games was a moment to celebrate.
However, much water has flowed since then. A majority of the people now see the Games as a grave threat. In Tokyo, they are taking to the streets protesting against the Games, which was already postponed by a year due to the pandemic. Not just civilians, the medical fraternity too has vouched for its cancellation. And with the third wave expected, this clamour has grown manifold.
Though the Zika virus did threaten the Rio Olympics, the mega event was trouble-free. This is the first time that the Olympics has been postponed in its 124-year history. In the past, the Olympics were cancelled thrice – 1916, 1940 and 1944 – due to World Wars.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government, however, declared that they were determined to stage the quadrennial showpiece event as scheduled — from July 23 to August 8. Conducting the Games in the times of the pandemic “stands as a beacon of hope to the world during the troubled times” and the Olympic flame could become the “light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present”, they declared.
With the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, focus was on Japan’s capital Tokyo. Australia and Canada officially announced their decision to pull out of the Games. Many athletes were reluctant to participate. These made the IOC and then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe jointly announce the postponement of the Games by a year.
Traditional torch relays were pulled off the roads of Tokyo and were conducted in a low-key manner with no audience. Many promotional events are being scrapped to avoid gathering.
Behind Closed Doors
After a severe first wave, things did seem to be back on track. IOC chief Thomas Bach and the Japanese government decided to allow 50% of the fan capacity. But Tokyo, still under the pandemic cloud, is posing a last-minute threat to the Games. While fans from abroad were already banned, there was a glimmer of hope for local spectators at the venues.
A steady rise in cases, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency from July 12 to August 22, lasting throughout the Games. This effectively ruled out any crowd at the Olympics, unprecedented in the history of the Games. The decision was announced on July 8, a day before Bach landed in Tokyo. Japan also lags behind in the vaccination drive — only 15% of its population is fully vaccinated.
Like India’s badminton doubles shuttler Satwiksairaj Rankireddy points out, spectators’ presence is key for an athlete to perform well. “It is different without spectators. But even if other contingent’s players are allowed at the venue, it would be good to see them encourage sportspersons. Other contingent members were also banned at the All England Badminton Open Championship.”
Life in a Bubble
While the spectators will have to be content with their television sets, over 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries, who started arriving in batches in Tokyo to participate in the event, will also have a tough time during the mega event.
The Olympic Village opened its gates on July 13 for the athletes. The athletes need to take two Covid-19 tests on separate days within 96 hours of their departure to Japan. They need to produce a negative report at the check-in. On arrival in Japan, they will be tested again at the airport before going into mandatory three-day quarantine. They will also be tested on a daily basis.
Once they enter the Olympic Village, wearing a mask at all times is a must, except while training or competing. They have to maintain a two-metre distance from each other. They are also advised to maintain the same distance while eating or to eat alone. They have to use only dedicated transport for the Games venue and cannot roam around.
With health officials suggesting that holding a massive event like the Olympics could trigger another wave of the pandemic, North Korea became the first country in April to announce their withdrawal from the showpiece event. Joining them was the three-member weightlifting team from Samoa which on July 1 announced its withdrawal.
Legendary tennis player Roger Federer decided to skip the event while Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem have already announced their exit. However, world no.1 Novak Djokovic will participate in the event. Australia’s Nick Kyrgios has decided to stay away citing fan’s absence as a reason. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Serena Williams too is staying away while top players Denis Shapovalov, Milos Raonic and talented Andreescu Bianca and Angelique Kerber have all withdrawn.
World No. 1 golfer, Dustin Johnson, will also be missing from action for he is not comfortable with travel restrictions. These withdrawals have taken a bit of sheen off the Games.
India in Olympics
India has always headed to the Olympics with a lot of expectations. The pressure on athletes to deliver at the world’s biggest stage is unbelievably high. Though India has become a force to reckon with in continental events like the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, it has always come a cropper at the Olympics.
India won at least a medal in each Olympics since 1996, but the achievement is nothing when compared with other nations. The US leads the tally with a whopping 2,827 medals, including 1,127 gold. In over India’s 100 years of history at the Games, we have won only 28 medals – 9 gold, 7 silver and 12 bronze. US swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian, alone has 28 medals, including 23 gold medals. However, with a new edition, come new hopes.
India first participated in the 1900 Olympics with a lone competitor Norman Pritchard. He won two silver medals – one in 200m and another in 200m hurdles. India sent its first team to the 1920 Games and has continued to participate since then.
Hockey provided the most medals at 11, which include eight gold. Indian men’s hockey team dominated the world from 1928 to 1956 Olympics winning six straight gold medals. However, the country’s first-ever individual medal came in 1952 when wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav won a bronze in Helsinki.
After a painful wait of 44 years, Leander Paes ended the medal drought in the individual category with a bronze in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Four years later in Sydney, Telugu athlete Karnam Malleswari created history by becoming the first female athlete to win a medal with a bronze in weightlifting. India bagged a lone medal at the 2004 Athens Games with Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore winning a silver in double trap event.
Beijing Olympics in 2008 saw India clinch its first individual gold when Abhinav Bindra won the yellow metal in the 10m air rifle event. Boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar added a bronze each at the same edition. India’s best show in terms of medals was at the next Olympics in London in 2012 where they won six medals. Sushil Kumar entered the record books as the first multiple medal winner after Independence with a silver while Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, Gagan Narang and Yogeshwar Dutt added a bronze each.
With multiple medals in the kitty, India sent its biggest contingent to the 2016 Rio Olympics — with 117 athletes competing across 15 disciplines. It turned out to be a major embarrassment as the contingent returned with a mere two medals. PV Sindhu won a historic silver in badminton while Sakshi Malik took a bronze in wrestling. The much-hyped shooters returned empty-handed for the first time since 2004.
In Tokyo, India will have its biggest representation with 119 athletes —67 male and 52 female. Unlike previous times, the medal prospects are bright this time. Disciplines like shooting, wrestling, boxing, archery, hockey and badminton have genuine medal contenders.
The 15-member strong shooting contingent is tipped to return with multiple medals with the likes of Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker, Elavenil Valarivan and Divyansh Singh Panwar in fine form. In boxing, six-time world championship gold medalist Mary Kom and Amit Panghal will enter the field as top contenders. In wrestling, Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat are primed for a podium finish. Archer couple Atanu Das and reigning world No.1 Deepika Kumari too look to win the elusive archery medal.
Rio Olympic silver medalist and reigning world champion PV Sindhu is hoping to go the distance and win a gold. Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu too has every chance of returning with a medal. The lone lifter in the fray from India is seeded second and holds the world record in clean and jerk event.
India was never considered a force in athletics. But going into this Olympics, Neeraj Chopra emerged as a strong contender. The men’s hockey team too is expected to end the 41-year-old medal drought.
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