Tokyo passes Olympic flag to Paris
With Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo having received the Olympic flag on Sunday, France is now officially gearing up for its own version of the Games in three years’ time. Hidalgo took stewardship of the flag from International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach at the closing ceremony of Tokyo 2020, while thousands of people – including many of France’s successful athletes – gathered at the Eiffel Tower to watch the occasion unfold.
Naturally, Covid-19 remains at the forefront of everyone’s mind. While it’s to be hoped that the pandemic will be over by then, it’s clear that plans for a worst-case scenario must still be in place. Tokyo provides a model blueprint in that respect, given that its organizers were forced to undertake a complete rethink of their strategy at short notice. Despite the absence of fans, the 2020 Olympics still turned out successful overall, setting a precedent in how to host a major sporting event amid the chaos caused by a global pandemic.
Safety measures successful
Virtually every incarnation of the Games has suffered its fair share of armchair criticism, with spiralling budgets and unsustainable infrastructures often the chief bones of contention. Tokyo 2020 faced far more daunting challenges than most due to Covid-19 amid criticism that the Olympics might turn out to be a “super-spreader event” that would have catastrophic effects at home and abroad.
However, those predictions turned out to be far from the mark. Though Japan has experienced an uptick in cases recently, experts say that it is connected to the arrival of the highly contagious Delta variant rather than the Games. One prominent researcher, Valérie Niquet, who has written the book on Japan, claims that the surge in infections would have occurred with or without the Olympics, such is the strength of B.1.617.2. The facts support her argument: although Japan has witnessed 144,000 new diagnoses since the end of July, just 430 – less than 0.003% – of those were linked to the Games themselves, demonstrating the effectiveness of the social distancing and rigorous testing measures put in place by the competition’s organisers.
Paris to repeat the trick
Mindful of Tokyo’s success and of the need for prudence when planning Paris 2024, dozens of French officials have been shadowing Japanese organizers for the last two weeks to gain an insight into the unique challenges posed by Covid-19. A similar reconnaissance programme is planned for the Beijing Winter Olympics in six months’ time, where even more restrictive safeguards are likely to be in place. Armed with that knowledge, Parisian officials will have the resources they need to instigate a plan B should the need arise.
Of course, everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that the coronavirus will be in retreat by the time the next Summer Games arrive, and that Paris 2024 can concentrate on its more progressive goals of enhancing the sustainability and inclusivity of the event. To those ends, the planning committee have already indicated they will use 95% existing venues, while the government have instituted school programmes geared towards encouraging physical activity in the next generation. But as well as looking forward, Parisian organisers must also look back and learn from the past. The Japanese concept has provided a unique opportunity to do just that.
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