Olympic Athletes Head to Tokyo Despite COVID-19 Concerns


Arne Müseler / www.arne-mueseler.com

The newly renovated Japan National Stadium will serve as the main venue for the opening and closing ceremonies as well as all track and field events.

Sports fans worldwide wait excitedly for the 2021 Summer Olympics to begin this July in Tokyo, Japan. The International Olympic Committee decided to postpone the Olympics last summer due to health risks and travel complications as COVID-19 cases began to rise. This year’s games will begin on July 23 and end on August 8. 

The Summer Olympics have occurred every four years since 1896, when the first modern Summer games were held in Athens. This year, 206 countries and 11,091 athletes will compete in 33 different sports. Newly-added events include surfing, baseball, and karate. 

Japan’s COVID-19 cases have been extremely low compared to the United States; however, only 2% of their population has been vaccinated. This low vaccination rate and a recent rise in local cases has led to skepticism about the safety of the Olympics. In a poll conducted by the Japanese news agency Kyodo News, 72% of respondents stated that they believed the Olympics should be either postponed or cancelled. There have been several protests in Tokyo and a petition calling for the Olympics to be cancelled received 300,000 signatures (in a nation of just over 126 million) in just three days. 

There are still many unanswered questions about how Tokyo can keep athletes, volunteers, and Japanese locals safe during the games. The International Olympic Committee has strongly encouraged athletes to be vaccinated before arriving in Japan. Other COVID-19 regulations will include regular testing, no fans at sports games, smaller opening and closing events, and shortened stays in the Olympic Village for athletes. 

Several athletes who have been successful in past Olympics and will no doubt continue their legacy this summer include 24-year-old gymnast Simone Biles, 23-year-old runner Donavan Brazier, and tennis player Naomi Osaka. For Brazier and Osaka, this will be their Olympic debut. Caleb Dressel, who is competing in his second Olympics, is ready to prove himself as the new face of U.S. swimming, with the chance to win several gold medals. Finally, one soccer player who many are excited to watch is Mohammed Salah from Egypt. Salah has led Liverpool to much success in the Premier League in the last few years. 

An ancient tradition continues with this year’s Summer Olympics. Athletes have waited years to represent their country in front of the entire world, even in a year in which training for the games have been more difficult than before.