National / Media | Japan Pulse

Postponement of 2020 Olympics sends social media into a frenzy

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing writer

It was only a matter of time before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics to change tack. After months of speculation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Tuesday night that the games would be postponed until 2021.

Online media in Japan and abroad had been anticipating this possibility since the start of February, when rumors of the Olympics’ impending cancellation sparked organizers to deny it.

But the reports kept coming, prompting more denials and even publicity stunts by aspiring London mayors and cringe-inducing headlines from The Sun. It was all fairly standard for a newsworthy story, but one without much validity at the time.

As soon as the World Health Organization labeled this strain of coronavirus a pandemic, however, the 2020 Olympics were always on shaky ground.

The best coverage, including an article by The Washington Post that looked at all the options weighed by the International Olympic Committee, offered in-depth looks into a matter that many on social media were simplifying to a ridiculous degree.

A week before the official decision was announced, Japanese netizens were starting to adjust to a reality in which the Olympics might not even happen — primarily by grumbling about reports that claimed ticket holders weren’t eligible for a refund if the games were canceled.

There are less concerns about this now, though, because the Olympics are just being pushed back up to 12 months. Or are there?

International media covered the news as a breaking development in the COVID-19 pandemic but, as is the case with any update related to it, it quickly just became another bullet point on a story offering new wrinkles every 30 minutes or so.

U.S. explainer site Vox worked its magic on the sequence of events that led to the postponement (“hosting a mass gathering in the time of a pandemic is never a good idea”), while others shared historical tidbits. In general, though, it didn’t monopolize attention and by and large seemed inevitable given the virtual suspension, postponement or cancellation of many sporting events worldwide. There’s also the issue of how small this all seems compared to global health.

On Twitter, users turned to the postponement as a way to underline how dangerous this pandemic is as well as to bolster political arguments. The hashtag #tokyo2021 offered some nice optimism.

Domestic outlets devoted more space to the announcement itself, although even that seemed to recede a bit after comedian Ken Shimura tested positive for COVID-19. Huffpost Japan provided comprehensive coverage over the next 24 hours, looking at the story from all kinds of angles. Immediately, though, it was more about reporting on what happened rather than dig too deep. After all, there’ll be plenty of time for that over the next 12 months.

Netizens offered more of an immediate response to the news. Message boards reacted with a mix of semi-ironic excitement and praise over the decision, posting jokes about how all the merchandise that had already been rolled out is now obsolete.

On Twitter, users acted quickly to offer others a history lesson on how every other Summer Olympics held in Tokyo has also faced some kind of challenge, whether it was outright cancellation or a false start. Others hoped that J-pop outfit Arashi, which had planned on going on hiatus after 2020 but appeared set on performing in some capacity at the games, would stay together a little longer to make this happen.

Additional questions arose. What would happen to all those holidays before the proposed start of the 2020 Games on July 24? And what will happen to the Olympics logo and its copyrighted name? While lawmakers say the games will still be called Tokyo 2020, one Twitter user found a creative way to fix it riffing on a familiar sight for anyone in the country.

The overall vibe online, though, is one of positivity. Perhaps it just reflects a digital coping mechanism in response to the recent constant avalanche of bad news over the virus outbreak. However, it also comes off as a genuine way of looking forward to a world in which this pandemic finally ends and things can at least return to something approaching normalcy.

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