What to expect for the Tokyo Olympics

Yesterday, 23rd June, was International Olympic Day. It marks 127 years since the establishment of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Sorbonne, Paris. This year, it also marks 1 month before the Olympic games kick off in Tokyo, which is set to be an unusual event due to the pandemic. Will the Olympics go on this year? Why are they not being postponed by another year? What is the situation for Team Ireland?

Will the Tokyo Olympics happen this year?

Since the first modern Olympics were held in 1896 in Athens, the event has been cancelled three times because of ongoing wars, but this is the first time they have been postponed. The pandemic has created an unprecedented situation, however, this year, the event will almost certainly go ahead. 

Multiple health experts have warned that holding the Olympics during the pandemic could increase infection rates in Japan and have suggested that the least risky option for them to go ahead would be to ban all spectators. Nevertheless, the organising committee announced that domestic spectators would be allowed to attend live events, subject to a few restrictions: Venues will only be filled up to 50% capacity and maximum attendance has been capped at 10,000 people.

This news came as local polls in Japan, conducted over the past few months, revealed strong opposition to the Games being held this summer and a fear of a COVID rebound if the event does go ahead. Although it seems like, in the last couple of weeks, the opposition to the Games being held has softened, the majority of people still oppose their going ahead this Summer. In May this year, Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, also sided with public opinion, stating that the Olympic Games should never be put before the people of Japan.

Tokyo Olympics

So, why is the event still going on?

There are numerous factors that come into play when it comes to the Olympics, but the main issue that it comes down to is the contract between the IOC – who organise the Games – and the host country- in this case, Japan. 

The contract in question does have an article regarding cancellation, but this is a right reserved for the IOC, not the host city. Therefore, if Japan were to unilaterally cancel the contract, the risks and losses of doing so would largely fall on the local organising committee. Thus, cancelling the Olympics would lead to tremendous losses for Japan, which has spent a phenomenal amount of money on preparing for these Summer Games. In fact, the overall cost of this year’s Olympics is estimated at over $26 billion

Another important factor that comes into play is the age of certain athletes who may have planned to make the Olympics their final international event before retiring from their sport. For some, last year’s postponement was already too much. This was the case for Irish super heavyweight boxer, Dean Gardiner, who retired late last year, choosing to focus on his post-boxing career amid the uncertainty surrounding this year’s games. 

Besides age, it is important to remember that cancelling the Olympics or postponing them for another year would affect the thousands of athletes from all over the world who have had to keep up their training over the past 12 months, despite the ongoing pandemic, and are often subject to unusual conditions, such as make-shift gyms in their garages.

Finally, the current Japanese government has a very low approval rating, and much of the prime minister’s reputation will depend on the smooth and successful staging of this year’s Olympics. The risk, of course, being the looming possibility of a public health disaster if case numbers were to rise during the Games.

What Irish athletes are already confirmed?

As of the 23rd of June, 83 Irish athletes have been selected for the Tokyo Olympics, with the last announcements to come in the next couple of weeks. This year has been very unusual for athletes with postponements, limited qualifying opportunities, and many other uncertainties, but many athletes have persevered. 

In the latest version – updated on the 14th of April – of the Gracenote Virtual Medal Table, Ireland is set to win 5 medals this year. Given the reduced amount of statistics from the last 18 months due to cancellations of key events, the predictions this year could be less accurate than usual. Nevertheless, Gracenote has a pretty good track record for medal predictions.

Two gold medals are predicted, one for single sculls rower, Sanita Puspure, and one for the Irish Equestrian-Showjumping Team. The showjumping team has since been announced as being made up of Cian O’Connor, Bertram Allen, Darragh Kenny, and Shane Sweetnam. 

Rowers, Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy, who won gold at this year’s Rowing Championships in Italy, are still predicted to win Silver in Tokyo. Finally, the two Bronze medals predicted are for lightweight boxer, Kellie Harrington, who has since also won a gold medal at a qualifier event in France, and for Rhys McClenaghan, an artistic gymnast.

Besides the predicted medal winners, this has been a very successful year for Team Ireland, who have already qualified more athletes than in 2016, when only 77 athletes represented the Emerald Isle in Brazil. This year, Ireland will have its first women’s hockey team, its first men’s team in rugby sevens, after the team beat France in the final world qualifying tournament, and its first-ever Taekwondo representative – Jack Woolley. 

All in all, this could be a very exciting Olympic Games for Ireland. Let’s see if Team Ireland is able to meet or even improve on the predictions of the Gracenote Virtual Medal Table.

Where can you watch the Tokyo Olympics in Ireland?

In Ireland, the rights holder for the Olympic Games is RTÉ, continuing the public channel’s history of covering the event. The official sponsor of the broadcaster’s coverage of the event is Circle K, who is also an official partner of Team Ireland in Tokyo.

This year will also mark the first time that RTÉ will broadcast coverage directly from the host city. RTÉ Sport’s Evanne Ní Chuilinn will cover the event live from Tokyo, while Peter Collins and Darragh Maloney present the coverage from Ireland, with expert analysts joining them in the studio to review the performances of Irish athletes, as well as the biggest stories as they unfold.

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Nicole Hennessy
I'm a 2nd year student at Trinity College Dublin studying Politics and Sociology, who loves traveling, good food, and reading.

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