By The Manila Times/The Manila Times

WITH just weeks left in the countdown to the July 23 opening of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, Japan has reached the point of no return in its decision to forge ahead with the sports spectacle.

The government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been lashed by criticism for deciding to hold the Games in the shadow of a Covid-19 emergency.

At least two medical organizations have called out Suga for ignoring warnings that with more than 15,000 athletes, sports officials and media practitioners congregating in Tokyo, the Games could become a superspreader for the coronavirus.

The major Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun wants the Games canceled, as do the 400,000 people who signed an online petition.

Several hundred Olympic volunteers have quit over fears of getting infected.

So, why is the Suga government unrelenting in pushing through with the Tokyo Olympics?

Money could be the overarching reason. Japan has already spent an estimated $15.4 billion on the Games before it was postponed last year. Scrapping it means that all that money will be flushed down the drain.

The Olympic rings on Tokyo Bay. FILE PHOTO
The Olympic rings on Tokyo Bay. FILE PHOTO

Saving face could be another reason. Already backed into a corner, the Suga administration will not dare suffer the humiliation of abandoning the Olympic project at this late stage.

According to Dr. Aki Tonami, an international relations expert, the Japanese system "is simply not geared to make a radical U-turn at such a late point."

Now that Japan has put its foot down, the next step is to guarantee the safety of those who will be showing up for the Games.

Athletes and other participants (foreign spectators are banned) must be tested for Covid-19 twice within 96 hours before they leave their countries and will be tested again on arrival in Japan. They will go through daily testing for the duration of the Games.

The Olympic Village and all the venues and training sites will be under a bubble where all anti-Covid protocols will be strictly enforced.

When the Olympics was shelved last year, many participating countries said they were willing to wait for one year before returning to Tokyo.

Last week the Australian softball team arrived in the Japanese capital to start on-site training. Their early presence could reassure other delegations that it is safe to return to Tokyo.

Our own delegation is deep in preparation for the Games. To begin with, the delegation's members have been prioritized for Covid-19 vaccination.

The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) has budgeted P46.230 million to cover not only the delegation's airfare, hotel and accommodation and allowances, but Covid-19 testing as well.

Nine Filipino athletes have so far qualified for the Tokyo Games: pole vaulter EJ Obiena; weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz; gymnast Carlos Yulo; boxers Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, Irish Magno and Eumir Marcial; taekwondo jin Kurt Barbosa; and rower Cris Nievarez.

Expected to join the delegation is new US Open golf champion Yuka Saso and fellow golfers Bianca Pagdanganan and Juvic Pagunsan, and skateboarder Margielyn Didal.

Philippine sports officials are confident they have assembled a powerhouse team that has the best chance of ending the country's gold medal drought in the Olympics.

Twice, we were a few punches short of bagging a gold. At the 1964 Tokyo Games, boxer Anthony Villanueva lost to Snaislav Stepashkin of the Soviet Union in the final of the lightweight category.

At the 1996 Atlanta Games, another boxer, light-flyweight Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco, lost by points to Daniel Petrov of Bulgaria.

Our boxers have long been Olympic medal contenders, and the team going to Tokyo is no less formidable.

Diaz capped her Olympic run-up with an impressive showing at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Obiena won the Folksam Athletics Grand Prix in Gothenburg, Sweden, as he continued to compete in Europe ahead of the Tokyo Games.

World champion artistic gymnast Yulo has entered several tournaments in Japan, and just last Wednesday he won the bronze in the 2021 All-Japan Apparatus Championships.

Yuka Saso, meanwhile, will have the advantage of having played in the Olympic golf course while she was competing in the Japan women's pro circuit.

The stage is set. Let the Games begin.