Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Political cartoon: The Olympics and COVID-19

Can the Olympics still inspire if the cheers have been replaced by protests amid a raging pandemic?

Rob Tornoe / staff

Controversy is nothing new for the Olympics. The bribery scandal in Salt Lake City, censorship and oppression in Beijing, contaminated water in Rio — the list goes on an on.

Yet each time, the Games manage to overcome as the world gets wrapped up in the global competition and engaging story lines that inevitably emerge.

This year is different. Tokyo is currently under a state of emergency due to a spike in COVID-19 cases approaching its peak in early January. Just 23% of Japan’s population has been fully vaccinated, compared to nearly 50% in the U.S. And unlike previous Games, residents are against the Olympics being held with the raging pandemic as a backdrop.

» READ MORE: Cartoon: Team USA put a boot on Sha’Carri Richardson

As Foster Klug of the Associated Press noted, during the Opening Ceremony organizers held a moment of silence for those who had died of COVID-19. As the music paused, the sounds of protests echoed in the distance.

Recent polls show only 20% to 30% of Japanese adults support holding the Olympics, and upwards of 68% believe the Games would not be “safe and secure.” And it will be more difficult to win fans over thanks to empty venues and quiet competitions (NBC has said they won’t add canned crowd noise in the U.S. like it did for American sports last year).

So far, the International Olympic Committee — which didn’t make it mandatory for competitors to be vaccinated — has reported 13 positive cases among athletes in Tokyo. At least 110 cases have been linked to the Olympics as of Friday, barely two days into competition.

“It’s obvious that the bubble system is kind of broken,” said Kenji Shibuya, the former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London, who warned back in April that the Olympics must be “reconsidered” due to Japan’s inability to contain the virus, especially with the Delta variant running rampant across the globe.

How all this ends is a mystery. John Williams’ dramatic Olympics score is always inspiring, but it might not be loud enough to drown out the suffering of Tokyo residents, who will ultimately pay the price for any major outbreaks.

More cartoons

Here are some of my recent cartoons. For more editorial cartoons, visit the Inquirer’s cartoon section.