MARTIN SAMUEL: Tokyo is scared and the Olympics are an imposition they resent

In Porto at the weekend there were still some locals who did not believe the Champions League final should be taking place.

Not as it was, with a 15,000-strong invasion of English fans and the famous football family. They resented that coronavirus restrictions had been lifted for English visitors on the Thursday before the match. That English fans would be allowed in the Estadio do Dragao when Portuguese fans are still exiled.

They no doubt saw the news bulletins of some supporters behaving in an unruly fashion in the bars along the Douro River. There is no culture in Portuguese football equivalent to standing half-naked in large groups in a bar, drinking beer from 10am and singing aggressively. It frightens them. 

It is clear that the vast majority of citizens don't want spectators to attend the Tokyo Olympics

It is clear that the vast majority of citizens don’t want spectators to attend the Tokyo Olympics

All the news reports, accompanied by footage of minor skirmishes or police preparing to draw batons, had captions that contained the word Ingleses. It was not hard to understand the messages being relayed.

Two weeks earlier when Sporting Lisbon won their first title since 2002, fans gathered to watch their win over Boavista on giant screens outside the closed Estadio Jose Alvalade before pouring on to the streets to celebrate.

Unsurprisingly, the city then suffered a coronavirus spike. This is what some of Porto’s locals feared too; particularly with free-moving visitors from England, the European home of the feared Indian variant.

One of the dissenting voices was Francisco J Marques, FC Porto’s director of communications, who drew the distinction between the final and a behind-closed-doors basketball fixture between Porto and Sporting the next day.

‘After that, the Minister of Education and the Secretary of State for Youth and Sport can only resign,’ he wrote. ‘The lack of shame of these people means that today there was a game with thousands and tomorrow there is a game that the athletes’ relatives cannot watch.

Fans were welcomed to the Champions League final in Portugal but it will be different in Tokyo

Fans were welcomed to the Champions League final in Portugal but it will be different in Tokyo

Fans were welcomed to the Champions League final in Portugal but it will be different in Tokyo

‘They said that the fans of the Champions League finalists came in a bubble, but all Portuguese saw there were no bubbles and that those responsible lied to the country. May the price of these falsehoods not be too high.’

Yet Marques’s voice was still the minority. The majority of locals remained friendly, welcoming, unafraid. Obviously, the hospitality industry, and taxi drivers, were delighted. But there was never a sense of imposition, of being part of an unwelcome invading army.

They seemed, largely, happy to be at the party. Happy that their city, their fine stadium, had been chosen to host such a prestigious event when, under normal circumstances, an arena with a capacity of 50,000 would be considered too small. In Tokyo, it will be different.

It is undeniable that the majority of citizens do not want us there. Do not want the Olympic Games. Are scared by it. Resent it and those who are attached to it. This is an imposition, an invasion.

In the left-leaning Asahi Shimbun on Monday, the top trending article reported that of 1,649 foreign nationals connected with the Olympics and entering Japan since the beginning of April, 1,432 were exempted from quarantine.

This included 24 visitors from India, with 14 receiving quarantine exemptions. As it stands, Japanese citizens living outside the country, or spouses of Japanese residents, require special dispensation to enter the country and even then must quarantine for two weeks.

The Games will take place in an atmosphere of unnecessary tension and possible hostility

The Games will take place in an atmosphere of unnecessary tension and possible hostility

The Games will take place in an atmosphere of unnecessary tension and possible hostility

This being a report in a Japanese newspaper — circulation five million, making it the country’s second-biggest seller — it was written in measured tones. Yet the inference was clear. Here, increasingly, was a national scandal. In a recent Asahi Shimbun poll, opposition to the Olympics stood at 83 per cent. Last week, it published an editorial calling for the Games to be cancelled. The Asahi Shimbun is one of the Olympics’ sponsors.

So, increasingly, this is a dilemma. There are supposed to be roughly 90,000 athletes, officials, journalists, sponsors and support staff heading to Tokyo this summer. To a city in a current state of emergency, occupied by people who do not want us there with anti-virus inoculations administered to just 4.1 per cent of the population and only 30 per cent of medical workers.

I’m all right, Jyakku, I’ve had two jabs. Yet hotel employees, coach drivers, media centre workers, airport staff, stadium staff, in fact every Japanese person one might come across, the chances are they haven’t. And 90,000 of us present an incalculable risk to them, no matter how many masks we wear or how segregated we are.

Even if those fears are unfounded, they are still fears, meaning this is a Games that will take place in an atmosphere of unnecessary tension and possible hostility.

Hosting works, often at enormous expense, because the hosts buy into the pride in their position. Our city has got the Olympics; for three weeks, our city will be the centre of the world. Look at all these people coming to celebrate with us from around the world, in our wonderful city.

At the Rugby World Cup in 2019 it was clear that the primary focus for Japan was the Olympics

At the Rugby World Cup in 2019 it was clear that the primary focus for Japan was the Olympics

At the Rugby World Cup in 2019 it was clear that the primary focus for Japan was the Olympics

That is what Tokyo felt like, before the misery of Covid. I was there 35 days for the Rugby World Cup in 2019. On arriving, it was rather disconcerting to find the tournament was second on the bill. It had already been under way for 12 days. Japan had played twice and beaten Ireland, yet all of the local furniture, the advertising campaigns, the logos, the brilliant, clever graphics that are a constant backdrop in Japan, concerned the Olympics.

They had embraced rugby by the end, but there is no doubt what the Olympics meant to them. For that country to reject the Games, something has gone terribly wrong.

And something has gone terribly wrong. Japan did not change their process of pharmaceutical approval to respond to the Covid emergency, meaning vaccines took longer to be made available.

Pfizer and BioNTech SE vaccines were not allowed to be administered until mid-February, almost three months after Pfizer had won approval here. Japan had performed relatively well in the battle against Covid to that point, and was not moving with the urgency of other countries. They missed out in the scramble for supplies at a time when, as Dominic Cummings explained last week, ‘Donald Trump had the CIA trying to gazump everybody’.

Also, Japan has never moved from a rigid policy in which only qualified medical personnel — doctors and nurses, not pharmacists or even dentists, until recently — could administer vaccines.

This has made the roll-out slow. By the time the Olympics are scheduled to start it is estimated only those over 65 will have been vaccinated, and even then not all of them.

So not the Olympic workforce. Those who will be interacting with the 90,000 new arrivals will not be protected; and we do not comfortably know the threat that even the vaccinated well might pose.

There will be no sense of celebration and shared humanity at the Games this year

There will be no sense of celebration and shared humanity at the Games this year

There will be no sense of celebration and shared humanity at the Games this year

CONMEBOL announced on Monday that, 13 days before it was due to start, the Copa America would not be taking place in Argentina.

This is CONMEBOL, the South American federation, who two weeks ago made River Plate play a Champions League match with no subs and a 35-year-old injured midfielder in goal because 20 players, including all four goalkeepers, had gone down with coronavirus.

River Plate were refused permission to field a specialist goalkeeper from the youth team by CONMEBOL. Yet even these idiots could see that holding the Copa America in a country in which just five per cent are fully vaccinated and cases are running at 72 new positives per 100,000 was unacceptable.

Having already moved the tournament from Colombia to Argentina in the wake of widespread protests against the government, it is now on its third home, Brazil. Incredibly, the IOC plough on.

John Coates, an IOC vice-president, said the Games would go ahead ‘regardless of whether there is a state of emergency or not’. Dick Pound, the longest-serving IOC committee member, said nothing could stop the event ‘barring Armageddon’. Nice.

What delightful guests they make. Guests who insist on having a party at your house, that you don’t want, but for which you pay and may not even be invited. All foreign spectators are barred, and there is still a debate around letting the locals in.

At best, numbers will be reduced. It is the Olympics that isn’t, the Games that aren’t. There will be no sense of celebration, of shared humanity. Sydney in 2000 remains my favourite Olympics. Everyone was so positive, so happy to be together, so proud of their city and its hosting achievement. Later, Sydney’s government were disappointed this goodwill did not provoke a lasting spike in international tourism, because they thought they had done it so well.

Now let’s talk Tokyo. I love Tokyo. I love its look, its feel, I love that it takes about four visits to even begin to get how much is going on and how to unlock it.

I love Japanese culture, manners, music, record shops, transport, the listening bars, the thrift shops, the B-Side Label sticker outlet in Harajuku. I love the 50-seat Bar Martha where the serious-faced Wataru Fukuyama selects from his extraordinary vinyl collection and ejects drinkers who disrupt the subdued atmosphere. I even got a smile from him once. I think it was for the shared recognition of Jim Hall’s Concierto De Aranjuez.

I love Japanese culture but I would be one of the 90,000 interlopers 83 per cent don't want

I love Japanese culture but I would be one of the 90,000 interlopers 83 per cent don't want

I love Japanese culture but I would be one of the 90,000 interlopers 83 per cent don’t want

I love the juxtapositions of ancient wood and shiny steel, of old and new. I love the parks, the trees, the shrines, the art. I bought a 1930s bicycle cape there one rainy afternoon and I haven’t even got a bicycle. I’ve eaten chochin — fallopian tube on a skewer with sweet soy, ovary still attached in the form of an egg yolk — been in two earthquakes and a typhoon. If I could live anywhere in the world, bar this country, it would be Japan.

Yet I also recognise that I’m gaijin. In Porto, until I open my mouth, I could be local. I’m European, I’ve got dark hair, brown eyes, we’ve got a whole culture in common. In Japan, some of those features are obviously other.

I’m plainly one of the 90,000 interlopers that 83 per cent do not want. The Olympic accreditation that usually brings a smile of recognition now hangs like a declaration of war around my neck.

October 12, 2019, England were scheduled to play their last Rugby World Cup group game against France in Yokohama. For later I had a restaurant booked, Maru-ichi in Nishihara, near Shibuya.

Then, three days before, a gentleman called Seiya Tajima spent the best part of his morning tracking me down through various convoluted telephone channels — one number in the contact details was wrong — to tell me that, regretfully, the restaurant would be closed because there was going to be a typhoon. He was right, the match was cancelled too.

Yet I made it back to Maru-ichi, which Seiya runs with his father, on several occasions before the tournament was over and was looking forward to returning.

Yet what welcome would await? If an Olympic visitor went to Maru-ichi, would that unnerve Seiya’s mainly Japanese clientele?

And would they then judge Seiya and his father negatively for endangering them by welcoming foreign guests? In which case, what damage does Mr-once-every-two-years leave behind?

I was in Albania some time ago when our cab was randomly stopped by local police. My fellow passenger, a colleague, attempted to remonstrate with them. Our driver looked terrified. We were going home the next day. He was going to have to deal with these men in uniform for the rest of his life.

It is difficult to be a good guest when it is clear that your hosts do not want you to be there

It is difficult to be a good guest when it is clear that your hosts do not want you to be there

It is difficult to be a good guest when it is clear that your hosts do not want you to be there

Japan loved its rugby tourists, but this might be a wholly different stay. Ultimately, a tournament is a social contract — they pledge to be good hosts, we promise to be good guests. Yet how to be a good guest if the host does not want you there?

This is not to judge those who will travel to Tokyo, the IOC aside. Who can tell a rower who has risen at 4am every morning for his or her entire adult life in preparation for this event, to see a bigger picture?

The Olympics is their picture. It is easy to be philosophical when some of us get to go to a lifetime of such events. Others have imperatives, too: coaches, judges, referees, officials from each sport. Newspapers have Olympic correspondents, athletics correspondents. How can you be the Olympic correspondent and not to go the Games? How can Adam Peaty pass this up?

But 90,000 of us? This is the dilemma. In the last year or so, we have had to find other ways to report and review sport. From a distance, sometimes, from outside closed stadiums, from faraway continents, via the TV screen.

It is not ideal. The instinct is to be there, to share that experience, what you heard, what you felt and saw. That was why we were in Porto, and that desire remains strong, for Tokyo’s Olympics. The Games are always compelling.

Yet going there no longer feels like a professional decision, solely. This is about more than just the job. Until 83 per cent somehow becomes a minority, it feels too much like an unnecessary imposition.

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