Tokyo Olympics media coverage must balance a sporting event and a potential Covid super-broadcaster
By Arthur L. Caplan & Lee H. Igel
As the host city and country currently grapple with yet another wave of coronavirus cases, how much media covering the Tokyo Olympics should focus on the public health crisis swirling around one of the mega – emblematic sporting events of the world?
The Games are gearing up to unfold as planned in the Japanese capital and other locations. Already postponed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Olympic Committee and the local organizing committee are continuing the nearly $ 30 billion two-week festival dedicated to sport, culture and entertainment. ‘education. This is despite the fact that Tokyo is under a government-mandated state of emergency that will last until at least nearly a month before the game’s opening ceremony. This is also despite the prevalence of infection rates. high and very low vaccination rates across the country, polls showing most people no longer want to host the Games, and the emergence of rapidly growing and highly contagious variant strains spreading around the world.
The IOC could always decide to postpone the Games again. But it’s still easier said than done and it doesn’t seem likely this time around. It would likely take an unforeseen catastrophic event, rather than Covid, to hamper the Games taking place this year. Indeed, besides the IOC and government officials, there is a global multitude of athletes, coaches, coaches, national delegations, sponsors, food suppliers and broadcasters who have invested hundreds of millions dollars and countless hours for the two weeks in Tokyo.
So far, media attention to the Tokyo Games has focused on the public health situation in Japan. Part of this included items ranging from updates to the IOC Security Protocol Manuals at no foreign spectators are allowed at the Olympic events at health professionals plead hospital services for the cancellation of the Games. But as the Games get closer to the start, more attention will likely start to turn to stories about athletes and athletic competition. Sports media will replace medical media. It shouldn’t happen.
Some human interest stories related to sport will be welcomed by many people. They should be, especially since there is more than a year of complete information on all things Covid. During this period, sports proved to be a key form of entertainment, with athletes often classified as essential workers. But paying more attention to athletic performance leads to a complete detachment from public health issues.
There is no shortage of critical health and safety issues that require special attention. What are the health, economic, social and political impacts of vaccines and quarantines on a largely unvaccinated nation? Should vaccinations be mandatory for all athletes, coaches, delegates, sponsors, suppliers and members of the media planning to be in Tokyo and, if so, which vaccines should be certified as acceptable? How should the privileges accorded to athletes be viewed when they are generally at low risk of death, but from countries where Covid infection rates are spiraling out of control, such as India, Brazil, Nepal, Argentina, Malaysia and Peru? Will the athletes really sign the waivers to release the IOC and Japan from liability if Covid makes them sick? Will the athletes really stay on the Olympic venues and how rigorously will they be monitored? And will the nations that rely on quarantine to manage the virus really welcome home athletes and their support staff who may have been exposed to Covid by their peers?
NBC owns the media rights for the Tokyo Games which will be distributed across the United States. This is part of a $ 7.75 billion extension that was agreed with the IOC in 2014 and running through the 2032 Games. The broadcast of sports competitions and athlete stories will likely attract tens of millions of people to view more than 3 billion minutes of video on network platforms. Most of those minutes are understandably certain to include more highlights from the international lineup of athletes rather than the Covid situation in the countries they are from. Still, a lot of those minutes should be spent educating viewers about the latter.
In the dozen times he ran the broadcast of the Olympics on NBC from 1988 to 2016, Bob costas insisted on shedding light on relevant social issues. Many times they were of the variety that the IOC, host countries and their Olympic partners preferred not to be approached because they were involved in politics. The Zika virus epidemic around the Rio 2016 Games is a recent example. But, for Costas, it wasn’t about trying to be controversial or political, it was about aiming to be moral and responsible.
Costas took the same approach four years earlier at the London Games in 2012. The IOC barely recognized the 40e anniversary of the “Munich Massacre”, in which members of the Israeli Olympic delegation were taken hostage and murdered by terrorists at the 1972 Summer Games. Acknowledging reality was not lost on Costas: he has used a place during the opening ceremony to speak to her, followed by seconds of silence.
The legacy of the Munich Games also has something to suggest to what the Tokyo Games might be. That is, the tragedy that took place first in the Athletes’ Village and ultimately at a nearby airport overshadows the seven gold medals won by American swimmer Mark Spitz, three gold medals awarded to Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, the gold won by Mary Peters in the pentathlon, the US men’s basketball final against the Soviet Union, or one of the other achievements that have taken place. And if there is a lasting image and sound clip, it is ABC Sports broadcaster Jim McKay provides live TV update on end state of athletes taken hostage: “They are all gone.”
Since its founding in the summer of 1894, the IOC has insisted that the Olympic Games are not a place for politics. Yet she has always been aware of the role that the Olympic movement can play in moderating the impact of politics on society. It is not for nothing that part of the reason for choosing Tokyo to host the 1964 Summer Games was to recognize the reconstruction and reintroduction of Japan into the world community after its role as an Axis power. during the Second World War.
All media covering the upcoming Olympic Games have an obligation to balance the description of the sporting side with the details of public health. The whole world has been learning for over a year that it is difficult to hide from the coronavirus. It shouldn’t be any less difficult to hide its existence and its impacts on people and places from the eyes of the world.
Wishful thinking, looking in the opposite direction and denying reality will not keep Covid away from the Olympics. The Games could even slow down efforts to return to the “new normal”. When international sport takes place in the midst of an ever-dangerous pandemic, media coverage must fully reflect this reality.