Only the next few weeks will tell whether the Tokyo Olympics will prove to be yet another super spreader of COVID-19 around the world.
What the games do reveal, however, is corporate capitalism’s clout over governments and politicians, including Japan and Australia.
While for months the vast majority of Japanese people expressed a desire not to host the delayed Olympics 2020, their conservative government has capitulated to the ambitions of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
At least prior to the restrictions on flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic, passenger and cargo flights were a growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and a driver of climate change.
While businesspeople, politicians, diplomats and the super rich lead the pack, and still do even in a pandemic, professional sports teams and athletes, including Olympians, also do a great deal of flying, much of it long-distance and international.
Furthermore, prior to the pandemic, tens of thousands of fans would fly around the world to watch their hometown teams or national teams. Alternatively, they would fly to major sporting events, including the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, the FIFA World Cup and the Australian Open.
Compared to others the federal government has been relatively strict in restricting flights into the country. But it has also been generous in granting exemptions to those leaving and re-entering the country if they can prove they are acting in Australia’s “national” and, therefore, economic interests.
These include British racist Katie Hopkins, who was allowed to fly to Sydney to appear on Channel Seven’s Big Brother.
The federal and New South Wales governments agreed she would be good for the economy. As a gesture of gratitude she broke quarantine — opening her hotel door to guards without wearing a mask and talking down the pandemic as a real health threat. This led to a public outcry, and her immediate deportation.
In this case, the government had no other choice. But the exemption it granted her made a mockery of its exemption policies.
While thousands of stranded Australians are still trying to return home, the Australian Olympians and their support staff have been given a few hundred precious exemptions.
Included among these is the Queensland Labor Premier Anna Palaszczuk, whose state has been selected as the site for the 2032 Olympics.
Even though Palaszczuk reduced the numbers allowed to re-enter Brisbane, due to a resurgence of COVID-19 spread from Sydney, she and an entourage opted to fly to Tokyo. Having faced criticism, Palaszczuk promised she would not attend the opening ceremony or any events — until the Australian Olympic Authority CEO John Coates bullied her to be seen.
The corporate media are celebrating plans for a third Olympics in 2032, as are many Australians.
No-one knows how long the pandemic will continue. But we know that devastating climate change-caused heat waves and bush fires in western North America and floods in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, China and India will not let up until serious action to cut carbon emissions is taken. The prospect of a repeat of the Black Summer mega fires, or other catastrophic events in Australia, remains.
Some argue the Tokyo Olympics are a sliver-lining in a global crisis. In reality, they are a modern version of Roman gladiator contests — another example of corporate-driven spectator sports — which, under neoliberalism, serves as the opium of the people.
[Hans Baer is author of Climate Change and Capitalism in Australia: An Eco-Socialist Vision for the Future.]