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As Tokyo readies to play host in a pandemic, both innovation and doubts multiply

There’s no denying that the Olympic Games represent the acme of excellence in the sporting world. Athletes train years and make huge sacrifices for this dream. But with a little more than 70 days to go for the Tokyo Olympics, the sporting world is grappling with the Herculean challenges that come with hosting the event in the middle of a pandemic. Even after being postponed by a year, the fast-evolving nature of Covid is raising doubts, anxieties and tricky questions about the Games.

Take the Olympic torch relay, which has been forced to scale down due to the spread of infections in Japan itself. Hyogo, Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures have already cancelled their legs of the relay on public roads. Then there are logistical issues. The Games will be held without fans and athletes will be airdropped into Tokyo. Plus, their movements will be severely restricted, they have to undergo Covid tests every day, alter meal timings, and limit their interactions even with teammates.

This still doesn’t answer questions like what would happen if an athlete tests positive in the medal rounds, or if a sample throws up a false positive. Will the event get cancelled altogether, will infected athletes be replaced, and if so how will the replacement work? For Indian athletes, it is proving to be a tough ask even before it begins – as shuttlers Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth found out when the Singapore Open qualifying event was cancelled due to Covid, hitting their Olympic prospects. Add to this travel restrictions for Indian nationals which could make even physically reaching the Games a complicated task. While Japan is indeed a high-tech nation with the resources to host a novel type of Olympics, many of its people are understandably questioning why the event is necessary.



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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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