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2020 Olympics: Should the games still go on despite worldwide vaccine disparities?

As of now, the Olympics are still happening. But Japan is seeing more cases with a population that is not well-vaccinated.

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Rui Hachimura will represent Japan in the 2020 Olympics this summer, assuming the games still happen.
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The 2020 Olympic Games are still on schedule to be held in Tokyo, Japan from July 23 to Aug. 8, one year after their originally scheduled time due to the coronavirus pandemic. Here in the United States, it appears that we are doing much better than the rest of the world in recent months. While things may be improving here — for now — it’s important to note that the rest of the world is actually doing worse since cases and deaths are increasing there.

Why the USA is doing better than most of the world now

I know, I’ve written a number of coronavirus pieces here over the past year. Many were quite gloomy, but that was exactly how I felt at the time. In short, I don’t think the United States should have had as many coronavirus cases and deaths as they have.

But in short, coronavirus cases have gone down significantly in the United States since last winter from over 200,000 cases a day to about 50,000. And 42.7 percent of Americans received at least one dose of the vaccine and 29.1 percent are fully vaccinated as of April 28. The US is among the world leaders in the vaccination race. Only Israel and Seychelles have fully inoculated over 50 percent of their populations, but America will get there relatively soon.

That said other parts of the world, including highly industrialized areas like the European Union and East Asia are far behind. Most of their countries have less than 25 percent of their populations inoculated with at least one dose. In Japan specifically, only 1.8 percent are vaccinated with at least one dose which may be partly due to vaccine hesitancy.

My hope is that the U.S. sends vaccines out ASAP to these regions and especially less wealthy parts of the world like India, Sub Saharan Africa and much of Latin America. While we may get past the worst of the coronavirus pandemic sooner than most of the world, the pandemic isn’t over until the world is vaccinated.

What does all of this vaccination and case talk have to do with the Olympics?

With Japan overall, cases have gone up significantly, but not at U.S. peak levels per capita. They will be hosting thousands of athletes from all over the world. While I assume most athletes from the Western World (and Australia) will be vaccinated, there is no requirement that all athletes get the shot(s) as far as I know. According to the AP, the expectation is that athletes will be required to stay in a bubble during the games and that they will have to test daily for COVID-19. The final rules will be released in June.

And finally, it seems like the Japanese are hesitant about having the games altogether. Over 70 percent of Japanese people in a recent poll by the Kyodo News believe the games should be canceled or postponed, partly due to Japan’s slow vaccine rollout.

It doesn’t seem like the games will be postponed a second time, barring a last-minute venue change. That hasn’t happened in the modern-day Olympics before, but the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup was moved from China to the United States due to SARS. What made this change a bit easier was that the 2007 Women’s World Cup didn’t have a confirmed venue yet when this happened, so China was given those games immediately without a bidding process, and the whole tournament wasn’t pushed back a year. That won’t happen for this year’s Olympic games.

Do you think the Olympics should go on anyway? I would still like to see the games go on, but I’m not opposed to seeing them cancelled either.

As the games pertain to basketball, it will be a bummer for the Washington Wizards because Rui Hachimura will likely be the most-featured player on the Japanese men’s national team and possibly one of the most featured players among all Japanese Olympians. And for the Washington Mystics, we should see Elena Delle Donne for the USA’s women’s team if her back cooperates, while Tina Charles and Ariel Atkins could also make it depending on how the roster is constructed.

Let us know in the comments below.