I’m not a doctor, nor a public health expert. But, I spend a lot of time listening to doctors and public health experts on the radio on my daily drives.
After listening to a lot of really smart, really well-educated people on the topic, even though they don’t all agree on exactly what is happening or will happen with the outbreak of the novel 2019 coronavirus, I’ve come to one overwhelming conclusion:
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics should not be cancelled to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
While messages have been mixed over the last few days, with the IOC declaring definitively that the Olympic Games will happen, but with Japanese officials striking a more measured tone, Games preparations are still all-systems-go on the ground.
The Olympic Games are still more than 4 months away, and one thing is abundantly clear from the opinions of experts: either the coronavirus will have come and passed by late July in the heat of summer, or it will be a pandemic that won’t be stopped by cancelling the Olympic Games. In fact, if it reaches pandemic scales, it’s quite plausible that the vast majority of people who would be attending the Olympic Games will have contracted the disease by then and recovered.
This is not to downplay the risks of the disease. If top-end estimates, that have ranged from contraction by 40% to 70% of the American population, are accurate, then there will almost certainly be a disruption to our daily lives. That being said, for most people with normal immune systems and who are under the age of, say, 60, the disease has had mild symptoms, similar to a flu, without long-term impacts. Given that at every major swim meet, a huge number of athletes get sick anyway with “the flu” or “a cold,” it doesn’t seem like a mild flu in the 3 month leadup to the Games should have any substantial impact upon training or preparation, even if it’s a huge percentage of the athletes.
But what seems abundantly clear is that nobody expects this disease to sort of trickle along for 4 months and then suddenly explode into a global pandemic as the result of a mass gathering like the Olympics. Several experts have said that the flight cancellations from China to the U.S., for example, were probably largely ineffective at impacting the spread of the disease.
Even if there were some restrictions on spectator attendance, or perhaps an inexpensive test will be developed by then that can be administered to everyone before arriving in Tokyo for the Games, there seems to be no logical reason to cancel the events, at least for the athletes.
There’s a nagging moral high ground here, of course. “Think about the athletes, nobody ever thinks about the safety of the athletes, it’s all about the money.” In the contact sports (basketball, soccer, wrestling), if it was going to spread, it would spread in the training grounds long before arrival at the Olympics. In non-contact sports, like swimming, most athletes would likely risk breaking a strict home bound quarantine to continue training regardless of Olympic cancellation, because the world’s top swimmers are not simply going to lock themselves in their homes for 3 months and stop training.
That’s just not realistic.
So, if the coronavirus won’t substantially disrupt the training of the athletes more than maybe a few days out of the water or out of the gyms while showing symptoms anyway, then where is the real added risk of holding the competitions?
It’s about money, yes, in many regards. For most Olympians, the Olympic Games are a substantial source of their career earnings – directly or indirectly. But it’s also about the pride, the competition, the drive, the desire to prove themselves on the biggest stage, that is the reason that so many people from around the world commit themselves to the Olympic goal in the prime of their lives.
It all matters, the money and the rest, and is all worth fighting for.