After a delay of more than a year due to the pandemic, the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics are finally underway.
Competition began Wednesday morning with Japan’s softball team facing off against Australia at the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium. The opening ceremony will be held Friday, but Olympic events typically begin before the formal start for scheduling purposes.
The Olympics are expected to be a competition unlike the world has ever seen. Organizers decided to push ahead despite Japan’s struggle to rein in the spread of Covid-19, and with just two days until the formal opening, it is still not clear whether the public health measures in place are enough to prevent the Games from becoming a global superspreader event.
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Athletes have already begun arriving, and more than 70 cases tied to the Olympics have been identified.
Organizers had spent months preparing for 11,000 athletes from 200 countries and thousands of journalists to descend on a single city, a potential logistical nightmare in the middle of a pandemic and without the support of the public. Opinion polls in Japan show most people oppose holding a major sporting event during a public health crisis.
World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is in Tokyo for the Games, expressed confidence Japan could safely host the event in a speech to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), though its plans would be “put to the test.”
“There is no zero risk in life; there is only more risk, or less risk. And you have done your best,” he said.
The Olympic village is prepped with coronavirus testing and health centers, with signs reminding residents to wear face masks and keep at least 1 meter (about 3.3 feet) away from each other. Athletes will be contact-traced and tested for Covid-19 daily; if they test positive, they will be taken to an isolation facility outside the village, and will not be able to compete.
When Tokyo extended its coronavirus state of emergency until August 22, the IOC took the unprecedented step of barring fans from attending the competition.
Japan’s chief Olympics official, Toshiro Muto, did not rule out canceling the quadrennial sporting event at the last minute on Tuesday.
The plan was that those participating in the Games would live isolated from the Japanese public, with athletes living in 21 residential buildings. However, the efficacy of that system is already in doubt.
“It’s obvious that the bubble system is kind of broken,” Tokyo public health expert Dr. Kenji Shibuya said in an interview with Reuters. “There seems to be some sort of interaction between guests and visitors and also local people.”
The IOC and Tokyo 2020 organizers did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on Shibuya’s remarks.
Friday’s opening ceremony is expected to draw a far smaller crowd than previous editions. The CEOs of several major sponsors, including Toyota and Procter & Gamble, will not attend.
However, United States First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron are both expected to be there.