Media  Global Economy  2020.07.17

The coronavirus crisis is the very reason why Japan should go ahead with the Tokyo Games regardless: Japan's quest to stave off a schism in the global community

The article was originally posted on JBpress on June 18, 2020

1. Roles Japan should play through the Tokyo Olympics

The fight against COVID-19 has been drawn out globally.

Japan is no exception. Even though the state of emergency was lifted on May 25, the country is still experiencing an anxious situation with infection clusters cropping up in prefectures such as Tokyo, Hokkaido and Fukuoka.

Other countries have also been fighting an uphill battle.

South Korea has seen a rebound in infections, which once seemed to be diminishing. On June 12, the South Korean government announced an infinite extension of the stay-at-home request for the Seoul Capital Area.

In China, where there had been no infections, group infections totaling several dozen have been reported in Beijing since June 13.

The US is hardest hit, with a cumulative total of infections exceeding 2 million and the death toll topping 115,000 by June 14.

As of mid-June, the number of infections was growing in 21 states, mostly those in the South and the Mid-West, where many people still do not wear face masks.

Meanwhile, new infections have been declining in Europe, which recently began to gradually ease travel restrictions within the bloc.

In contrast, the situation in Brazil, India and Russia is becoming more and more serious with ever-rising infections.

Who would have imagined a world like this at the beginning of the year?

It is difficult to get COVID-19 under control as there will be a higher risk of a second wave of infections in the coming fall and winter. In light of this reality, there is no choice but to give up on the idea of holding the Tokyo Games "in their full form" and consider ways to simplify them.

There is no telling whether the Tokyo Olympics will be held next year. Some argue for the cancellation of the Games altogether. Others call for postponing them to 2024 and carrying over the 2024 Paris Olympics to 2028.

The author hopes that utmost efforts will be made until the eleventh hour to make the 2021 Tokyo Games a reality. If they absolutely cannot be held next year, the next Olympics should be held in Tokyo no matter how many years they will be delayed. That is what the author really hopes for.

The prime reason for this is two-fold. First, sports have a key role to play in holding the post-COVID-19 global community together.

Second, the author hopes that the Japanese, who value altruism, will lead the global community in unifying the world and preventing it from falling apart, by capitalizing on the role sports can play in bringing people together.

2. The global community is breaking up

COVID-19 is a common challenge facing all of humanity. Clearly, overcoming this challenge calls for countries around the world to come together and set out effective measures in the name of international cooperation.

However, the world today is going in the opposite direction.

The United States and China are pointing fingers at each other in an unproductive dispute over the causes of the spread of COVID-19, thus intensifying animosity between the two countries.

The EU was split over the issuance of European common bonds known as "corona bonds" aimed at helping hard-hit Italy and Spain. France was for such issuance while Germany and the Netherlands were against.

In addition, the U.S. criticized the World Health Organization, which was supposed to play the primary role in these circumstances. It characterized the WHO's handling of the pandemic as being "very China-centric." This has undermined the functioning of the international body.

President Donald Trump went so far as to announce that he will suspend contributions to the WHO, a move criticized by many experts in the U.S.

Most countries are putting their own interests first and shying away from international cooperation in the phase where politicians representing their countries are supposed to join hands and call for international unity. In short, the global community is breaking up.

As it stands, no solution is in sight. What has been laid bare is the fact that the framework of shaping a world order is not working.

Unless someone stands up to hold back the disintegration process, the world will increasingly fall into disarray.

3. The benefits and side effects of economic globalization

The global community is facing the prolonged spread of COVID-19. Infections easily crossed borders and engulfed the entire world.

Behind the rapid spread is the increased cross-border movement of people as a result of the economic globalization process that picked up speed in the 1990s.

Economic globalization has promoted economic development in countries around the world and contributed to improving the living standards of those countries. It has greatly contributed to poverty reduction worldwide, although the free competition it entails has resulted in wider income disparities in Western countries and elsewhere.

According to the World Bank, the global poverty rate plummeted from 36 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 2015. The number of poor dropped from 1.895 billion in 1990 to 736 million in 2015.

A major factor behind these improvements is economic globalization.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 is a side effect of such globalization.

Although economic globalization has greatly benefited people around the world, this side effect is also hurting them.

It would follow that people who have benefitted from economic globalization have a shared responsibility to come together across national borders and address this particular side effect.

4. A structural defect of democratic politics

It is clear that the global community must work together to overcome this common challenge for humanity. Mutual cooperation is the key here.

However, such international cooperation is impeded by a schism in the global community, which primarily stems from the attitude of national governments in this world that puts their own interests before anything else.

The attitude of securing their own interests at the expense of those of other nations is all too prevalent in a world where governments need to help one another in addressing common problems.

The root cause of this uncooperative attitude can be found in a structural defect intrinsic to the system of democracy itself.

In the system of democracy, politicians who decide how the nation should be run are elected by popular vote. They constitute a government that governs the nation and decide the policies. Bureaucrats, who are responsible for executing these policies, drive internal affairs and diplomacy.

Voters also have a stake in what is done by the bureaucrats as well as the politicians, who are responsible for coordinating policies with other countries.

If a majority of a nation's electorate urges its government to put that nation first, then the politicians and bureaucrats have no choice but to act on that popular will. This is a corollary of the rules of the system of democracy.

Global common issues such as the environment, human rights, trade investment rules, and infections were not so closely linked to the internal affairs of national governments before the advent of the globalization era. Accordingly, it was easier for national governments to make some concessions in negotiations and coordinate their policies.

Now, discrepancies between global issues and internal affairs are exposed everywhere. This is highlighted by the fact that U.S. presidential election campaigns are generating conflicts in U.S.-China relations and, by extension, a schism in the global community.

This particular issue cannot be dissolved by a democratic governing system where a nation's voters elect politicians for that nation.

The issue could be addressed if a majority of a nation's electorate shared the view that cooperation with other nations should sometimes take precedence over their own national interests. This hypothesis is unrealistic in most cases.

There is arguably no nation on earth where a majority of the public opts to always put international policy coordination before their own national interests.

5. A window of opportunity for forming a world order

Concerted action among nations may be difficult, but many people around the world have called for cross-border solidarity to overcome the common challenge of COVID-19.

They are best represented by athletes and artists.

Through social media, athletes and artists are sending messages of encouragement to people and health care workers around the world. Their humanistic attitude must be striking a chord with almost everyone.

When both the senders and supporters of such messages come together as one, there will be a mental basis for the global community to unite beyond the framework of nations and grapple with the common challenge of COVID-19.

Even those who would normally call for their national interests to be put before anything else resonate with the athletes and artists who, with a pure heart, call for people to share their gratitude for health care workers and promote mutual cooperation in the global community.

This gives rise to the possibility of breaking the limitations of the system of democracy. This is the power of morals that outstrips the power of rules.

6. Making the Tokyo Games a symbol of a reconciliatory global community

Since the fight against COVID-19 is far from over, it may be difficult to send such a direct message through sports and other events.

This is the very reason that when the COVID-19 problem comes to an end, the Tokyo Olympics will provide a golden opportunity for people around the world to exchange messages and sincere blessings through sports.

If the Tokyo Olympics can be held next year, it's likely that the COVID-19 problem will not be completely over. It is hugely significant to overcome the various challenges facing the holding of the Tokyo Games in cooperation with people around the world.

Olympic venues may need to limit the number of spectators. Yet the safety of athletes and spectators should be secured with various infrastructure facilities and operations that utilize cutting-edge technology to prevent COVID-19 infections.

Preparations should be accelerated so that people who cannot come to the venues are able to see the games they want to see on TV or via the Internet at any time.

These efforts should be made not only by Japan, the host country. Japan should also call for voluntary cooperation from governments and private organizations in countries around the world. By making the most of such international joint efforts, it will be possible to realize a new form of Olympics that may be described as "Olympics held by the joint efforts of the global community."

The goal is to operate the Olympics based on an altruistic morality that precludes mammonism, avoids sticking to the existing rules, and respects cross-border coordination.

Specific measures to achieve this goal should include asking governments and private organizations around the world to provide the world's most advanced technologies for venue facilities, means of transport, accommodation, e-commerce, and financial settlements for national delegations and competition officials. The name of such providers should be published.

Such events as the torch relay, and the opening and closing ceremonies should involve the cooperation of artists, athletes, and sports officials around the world, including their remote online participation where possible. The idea is to show the world that the Tokyo Olympics are jointly operated by the global community as a whole.

International cooperation should also be encouraged in such aspects as the preferential provision of vaccines to national delegates before they arrive in Japan and development of the healthcare infrastructure in anticipation of their possible infection with COVID-19 while in Japan.

Efforts should be made to make such international joint management of the Tokyo Games the model for all subsequent Olympics.

Japan is prone to natural disasters including earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and torrential rains. Experience in post-disaster reconstruction has taught the Japanese the importance of sharing the suffering of people around them.

That constitutes a building block of Japan's national character that respects altruism.

Now is the time for the Japanese to stand up for people around the world.

The author earnestly hopes that the Tokyo Olympics supported by such altruistic intentions will become a symbol of a reconciliatory global community in the post COVID-19 era.