The Tokyo Olympics, one year late and devoid of spectators, are the perfect symbol for our abnormal time.
For most of us, the pandemic has been about vaccinations and the disruption of our daily lives. We have not felt the virus’ violence on ourselves or our family and friends. We are impatient to go back to our old life, to leave deprivation and insecurity behind.
The 32nd Olympiad, though, will stand in history as a reminder to ourselves and future generations of the magnitude of the current disruption.
Like last century’s two world wars, the virus respects no Olympic Truce, no convention nor ritual.
The fact that the Games can proceed without spectators is a basic difference from the ancient games that inspired the Olympic rebirth.
Then, the truce was instituted to secure the presence of representatives from all the city-states of the Greeks, even when they were at war with each other. Today, the whole of Earth’s population can be present without anyone leaving their home.
Even though most of us already watched the world from our screens, when the pandemic broke out it was still inconceivable that there could be major sports events without spectators. Soon, we became accustomed to the stadiums’ silence, we learned to hear the players and coaches shouting, as if they were at practice, without this lessening the importance or tension of the match. We got used to the fact that everything could be as close as a close-up of a goalkeeper’s eyes and as strange as a pixel on our TV screen.
The fact that the Olympic Games – the oldest and largest of mass spectacles – are forced to adapt to the demands of a microscopic, primitive virus is not so much a defeat, a humiliation, for human hubris, as a station in our evolution as a species, our metamorphosis into a hybrid of flesh, mind and technology.
In a few days, some 11,000 athletes from all the states and nations of the world, like their ancestors, will compete in the premier sports event of our time. They will represent our hopes, our passions, our disappointments. And we, another step further from reality, will be there: absent and present at the same time.