TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — A university professor who was raised in Kyoto, Japan, believes the XXXII Olympic Games should be canceled or delayed due to the surge in cases there and elsewhere – and he's not alone.
Over the past year, many Americans have spent a lot of time indoors, and during this Olympic season, many fans of the games are not likely to make an exception, as watch parties and celebrations have been curtailed.
This year’s games are controversial in some quarters, as many do not believe the Olympics should take place amid a spike in COVID activity, due to the Delta variant. Just last week, Japan announced it would ban all fans from its sports venues, which has many questioning whether the International Olympic Committee can safely host the summer games. Amid this, and a sexism scandal involving creative head Hiroshi Sasaki, many are not as enthusiastic about the 2021 games as in years past.
Takahiro Yamaguchi, a psychology professor at Northeastern State University, isn't too excited about watching the Olympics this time around.
“It is my opinion that they should either cancel them or postpone them. There is a surge in COVID cases, and you can’t compare [Japan's] situation with the U.S.,” he said.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and the Liberal Democratic Party hoped to create a vaccine locally, but when they failed to produce one, they had to join a long line of nations to receive the vaccine. Many believe that this, in part, has cause Japan to delay its vaccine rollout.
Yamaguchi believes vaccination rates are low in Japan because of a failed agreement between the U.S. and Japanese governments that has delayed the waiving of certain intellectual property of U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies.
“One of the reasons why they have a surge is that Biden was hoping to let other countries use the patents so they could make their own vaccine, but Japan had failed to negotiate, so they don’t have enough vaccines to go around," Yamaguchi said.
He blames both countries for failing to come together on the matter. He also blames Japan for hurting the restaurant industry. While restaurants are still open, they are not allowed to sell alcohol, which has hurt the local economy.
“They think that when people get drunk they are more likely to spread the disease. Instead, people are drinking in the streets. They just sit on the ground and drink,” he said.
This has damaged the restaurant industry, which is supposed to be preparing to receive hundreds of thousands of hungry visitors from abroad. Instead, many are going out of business.
While many residents of Japan have received a first dose of the shot, it is increasingly difficult for them to find somewhere to receive a second one.
“People need to make an appointment to get the vaccine, just like in the U.S., but their health care is saying they don’t have enough vaccines for a second dose. They need to wait more than a few weeks to get it. People are really struggling,” said Yamaguchi.
In addition, Japan has an agreement to send its vaccines to Taiwan, which further limits its own supply.
Yamaguchi has a sister living in Japan who informs him about the conditions there. For him, it has become heartbreaking to hear updates on events surrounding the Olympics, which is why he is choosing not to watch them this year.
The usual enthusiasm and activities centered on the games are subdued elsewhere as well.
Neither the Tahlequah Public Library, Hulbert Community Library, nor the NSU John Vaughan Library plan to host events to commemorate the Olympics this year.
“We didn’t even think about it,” said Hulbert Community Library Manager Cherokee Lowe.
Her response is typical around the county.
Kroner & Baer, Ned’s, and Dewain’s Place plan to turn on the Olympics for their patrons, but will not be doing anything extravagant to honor the games. Most people plan to watch them from their homes, including Keys High School Athletic Director Steven Goss.
“I love the Olympics and hope our fractured country can rally behind each other and root for the USA this summer. I have always enjoyed track and field, swimming, basketball, and gymnastics. I plan on watching the Olympics with my family,” said Goss.