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Tokyo Olympics teeters on the edge of being both a psychological and political drama

David Wharton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

The Australian city was the only candidate under serious consideration. In recent decades, fewer and fewer cities have been willing to gamble on hosting such an expensive event, a predicament that led to the unusual double-award to Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles four years later.

If the COVID-19 pandemic sinks the Tokyo Games, the IOC might start running out of options after 2032. David Carter, a longtime consultant and principal at the Sports Business Group, calls the risk "beyond extraordinary."

So what does all this mean for the Los Angeles Games? Carter wonders how local organizers might have fared if it had been their turn this summer.

"Los Angeles' ability to host the Games would have been deeply mired in local and state politics at a time when many residents and taxpayers are questioning the region's approach to the pandemic," he said in an email. "This would have been exacerbated by advocacy groups on both sides, to say nothing of the federal government weighing in with its evolving position."

As an official observer in Japan this week, LA28 Chairman Casey Wasserman believes Southern California is well-suited to adapt to calamity because, unlike most other hosts, it does not need to build an array of stadiums and arenas. Competition in 2028 will be held at existing venues such as the Coliseum, Staples Center and Pauley Pavilion.

"This validates what LA has," he says.

Still, the Tokyo Games might have something to teach future hosts about operating under extraordinary circumstances. Though every organizing committee must plan for the unexpected, Japanese representatives set a new standard by working with health officials and the IOC to develop a "playbook" of safety measures and restrictions designed to allow for safe operation during a pandemic.

 

Organizers have also trimmed $300 million from their budget by reducing services to an "essential" level. In this way, the coronavirus has perhaps forced the Olympic movement to accelerate its recent efforts to economize when it comes to hosting.

"They've had to make things simpler because they have to do so much testing," says Bill Mallon, a sports historian with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee in Japan this month. "I suspect some of those things will carry over to the future."

None of it will matter if Tokyo cannot deliver these Games in reasonably successful fashion. IOC executive John Coates predicted "there will continue to be some teething problems, I'm sure."

Hashimoto, whose first name comes from the character "seika," part of the Japanese word for "Olympic flame," hopes that perseverance will ultimately enhance how people remember her Games. IOC President Thomas Bach, who has overseen a tumultuous decade for his organization, hopes she is right.

"I was also thinking that, at least starting with Tokyo, we'd have a tranquil period," he told reporters. "So I keep my fingers crossed."

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