The New Yorker:
There wasn’t much to it, which was the point. The music stopped. An announcement was made. The stadium’s few thousand spectators—media, dignitaries, sponsors—rose to their feet and were silent. The empty seats remained empty. Public grief for lives lost during the pandemic was turned private, compressed, contained within the space of a minute. The music started again. The pace of the entertainment picked up. There was tap dancing, flag waving, live pictograms, a flying drone globe. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games had begun.
Moments of silence at sporting events are almost inescapable these days. They are an anodyne, if awkward, way of not only acknowledging some fresh horror—terrorist attacks, natural disasters, celebrity deaths—but also letting the game go on. It is as if the silence contains an apology for, and an absolution of, the first pitch or kickoff that follows, and all the euphoric forgetting that comes with it. During the broadcast of the opening ceremonies, the moment of silence came about twenty minutes in, and it passed uneventfully. But on Twitter—which, of course, is never silent—journalists started reporting that, when the music died down, you could hear protesters chanting outside the stadium, demanding that the Games stop now. Even in the quiet, there was no escaping the noise.
The reason for the protests, of course, was the same as for the silence: millions dead in a global pandemic, and many still dying. In Japan, where less than thirty per cent of the population is vaccinated, there has been acute anxiety over bringing more than eleven thousand athletes, many of whom are unvaccinated, into the country to compete. The majority of Japanese do not want the Games to be held now. Medical experts have advised against it. Some major sponsors, despite paying hundreds of millions of dollars for the right to be associated with the Games, stayed away from the opening ceremonies; Toyota cancelled its Olympics-themed ads in Japan. More than a hundred people associated with the Games have already tested positive for COVID-19. Given the scale and scope of the international event, those results were to be expected. There are strict protocols in place to separate the local population from the athletes, though already there are signs that the barrier is more porous than promised. The steady drip of cases is unlikely to stop in the next two weeks, and neither is the scrutiny given to them; the only question is whether the attention on the sports themselves will drown it out, and what happens when the Games end.
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