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Olympic leaders are making sure the Tokyo Games are safe — from liability

A woman watches the countdown clock for the Tokyo Games on Wednesday. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Tokyo Games will be safe, perfectly safe. How do I know? Because Baron Von Ripperoff and the other lords at the International Olympic Committee have assured me so. And the IOC’s assurances are to be trusted, are they not? Just look at them, so authoritative in their dark lapels and gold pins and rimless glasses. They’re as immovable and solid as statues. Any resemblance to the living is purely coincidental.

The trick to feeling secure in the IOC is to buy their posturing and propaganda and ignore their ominous, backdoor backside covering. If you’re scared that holding the Summer Games in the midst of a global pandemic and a state of emergency in Japan could become a variant superspreader event, it’s best to shield your eyes from the frightening liability waivers the IOC’s lawyers are demanding athletes sign to compete. They absolve IOC officials of any responsibility for anything that might happen, ever, in traveling to and from Tokyo to anyplace else in the world, in perpetuity and forever.

“I agree that I participate in the Games at my own risk and own responsibility, including any impact on my participation to and/or performance in the Games, serious bodily injury or even death, raised by the potential exposure to health hazards such as the transmission of covid-19 and other infectious disease or extreme heat conditions,” the waivers read.

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Yes, please overlook that special language, newly written and inserted into the IOC’s mandatory participation agreement, for this safe, very safe, most safe event.

“The Olympic Village is a safe place, and Olympic and Paralympic Games will be organized in a safe way,” IOC President Thomas Bach intoned in cool, dead tones May 19. Bach repeated the phrase “safe and secure” with the hollow, repetitive chant of a hypnotist in a letter to the Olympic community June 29, three times in seven paragraphs. “We are well into the delivery phase of a safe and secure Games,” he wrote.

See? They’re already safe, and they haven’t even begun.

Don’t read the news out of Australia, where Sydney is on lockdown because of the variant sweeping through the Pacific rim, or listen to New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian about how several people were infected by “fleeting” contact in a restaurant and shopping mall. “We need to recognize that this delta variant … is actually a gold medalist when it comes to jumping from one person to another,” Berejiklian said. And don’t listen to Australian national team physician David Hughes, who called the Tokyo airport as well as the gym and dining hall of the Olympic Village “areas of risk.”

Listen instead to IOC Vice President John Coates, whose voice is as lulling as chloroform. “It is now clearer than ever that these Games will be safe for the people participating and safe for the people of Japan,” he promised in May.

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They will be coming from everywhere; 93,000 athletes, coaches, officials, staff and media all converging on the Olympic Village — which has 18,000 beds in 3,600 rooms.

Shared bathrooms in a pandemic? Nothing unsafe there. It’s safe, perfectly safe. Japanese Olympic Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita assured us so, in a dulcimer smooth statement. “In a world that the coronavirus divided, sports will bond people,” he said.

Pay no attention to the two Olympic Village staffers who tested positive Tuesday after eating at the same table in a main dining hall that seats 3,000. And for goodness sake, avert your gaze from the Ugandan team, two members of which tested positive for the delta variant after arriving in Japan for training, though the delegation was fully vaccinated, one at the airport and the other after traveling 300 miles to Osaka, resulting in the quarantining of seven officials and drivers.

Whatever you do, don’t listen to Rob Koehler, director general of Global Athlete, an advocacy organization for Olympic competitors, who is left “speechless” by the IOC’s demand of blanket liability disclaimers from athletes, most of whom are amateur part-timers with day jobs back home.

“They’re going there not paid, and they’re expected to generate billions in revenue for the IOC, and they take all the risk,” Koehler fumed. “It’s unthinkable.”

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Listen instead to the silken insistence of Coates when he says: “We’re doing it for the athletes. … Our job is to ensure these Games are safe for all of the participants and all the people who might come into contact with the participants.”

Ignore the doubts in your own mind, which tell you we won’t really know how risky this was until people go back to their home countries, perhaps carrying the virus, perhaps to places where the majority of their countrymen are unvaccinated and the health-care system is overwhelmed, and especially won’t know for some time what this is doing to the Japanese population. Smother your suspicion that the IOC’s real agenda is that it’s desperate to collect on $4 billion in broadcast rights fees that make up its main revenue, so its only propaganda play is to understate the risk and campaign that everything is safe, perfectly safe, while the lawyers make dramatic changes to waivers that cover no one but their uniformly gray backsides.

Whatever you do, ignore the frightening final paragraph of the waiver, which reads as if the IOC fears it might have to burn all the athletes’ uniforms when it’s over.

“To the fullest extent admissible under applicable laws, (i) I irrevocably release the Released Parties from any liability for any loss, injury, infectious disease or damage that I, or my property may suffer in relation to my participation in the Games.”

There you have it: The barons are all released from the releases, releasing them from anything for which they could ever need to be released. White-collared and incontestably armed with these rustling sheaves of waivers, they are marching resolutely forward, and if they are marching everyone to a potential disaster, rest assured it will be a disaster only for others and not for them. If this is a folly, it will be someone else’s fault. If there is a fire, the gasoline will be on someone else’s fingers. For them it’s safe, perfectly safe.

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