The Dark Side of Tokyo Olympic Games 2020

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photo ©Secretaría de Deportes, CC BY 4.0 httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Nippon Budokan, Judo venue for 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

The Olympics often get glorious impression around the world.  However, the gorgeous Olympic facilities are often made of sacrifice of human lives.  This Tokyo Olympics involved at least 3 reported fatality during the construction of Olympic venues [1][2].  The dark side Tokyo Olympic Games is not very well known to the public but the fatality during the construction of Olympic facilities are not uncommon.

Construction Worker Died during Olympic Venue Construction

A 50-year-old worker who has been working at Tokyo Big Site, a multipurpose convention center, was being renovated into a comprehensive broadcasting media complex for Tokyo 2020 Olympics.  The worker was installing the cable and found unconscious at the construction site on August 8 [1], 2019 .  He was taken to the hospital and his death was confirmed shortly after that.  This really raise the question.  The exact cause of death is unknown.  The summer in Tokyo is brutal.  The high temperature plus high humidity.  The day high was 96 ºF (35.6 ºC) and 60 to 80% of relative humidity throughout the day time on August 8, 2019 [6].  This harsh working condition could cause a heatstroke.  But the authorities declined to comment on the cause of death.  It is unknown that whether this worker had pre-existing medical condition. 

Brutal Summer Heat in Japan

Notoriously, the summer weather in Japan is brutal.  approximately 71,000 people were hospitalized due to heatstroke between May and September in 2019 [7].  At least 162 people were died due to heatstroke in the summer of 2019 (as of August 10) [8].   Considering about this climate, the construction workers were exposed to very demanding condition and really challenging to keep up their work.  The humid heat during the summer is well-known fact even before the Olympic Games.  1964 Tokyo Olympic Games were held in October [9], much more comfortable climate for athletic events.

Although Tokyo 2020 organizers were well aware of  summer heat in Japan, they supported to hold the Tokyo Olympic Games during the peak of summer heat [10].  It’s mainly because of business side that many countries take summer vacation during July and August.  Schools are off and families go on vacation although COVID-19 situation made people to travel less.  In order to maximize the revenue potential, it makes more sense for host to hold the Olympic Games during this period.  But it’s extremely challenging for athletes.  A call for change is needed in order to protect the safety of athletes and workers since the warmer summer is expected in the future due to climate change [11].

Olympic Stadium Worker Committed Suicide

A  23-year-old Olympic stadium worker committed a suicide in 2017 [2].  The worker was facing nearly 190 hours of overtime in a month.  He was working as a quality control for construction materials.  The schedule of stadium construction was tight due to delayed start and schedule change due to unpopular design.  Also Japan is suffering a labor shortage, applying pressure on the construction industry [12].  This worker went missing then weeks after, his body was found in the central mountain area in Japan.  He left a suicide note that “mentally and physically pushed to the limit”.  Karoshi is a known Japanese term for “overwork to death”.  His work hours were well above the legal threshold of 80 hours a month.

The Unwritten Chapter of Olympic Proposal

This raises a question for a validity of hosting and operating Olympic Games.  Is it worth of doing this?  The athletes spent their whole life to compete for this moment.  They deserve an opportunity to demonstrate their efforts.  But how many human lives need to be sacrificed to host the Olympics?  The fatality of construction workers is the unwritten chapter of the Olympic proposal.  11 fatality for 2016 Rio Olympic and at least 10 fatality for 2008 Beijing Olympic venue related construction are reported [13,14].  Also 14 workers were injured for Tokyo Olympic related construction by the end of 2018.

Olympic Construction Fatality

The Protest against Tokyo Olympics as Covid-19 New Cases Increases

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Japan is surging.  A new record of 14,204 new cases in entire country of Japan were reported on August 4, 2021 [15].  The daily news cases were already on rise before the start of Olympic Games.  The Olympic related COVID-19 cases are 267 for residents of Japan and 142 for non-residents of Japan, total 409 as of August 8, 2021 [16].   

The athletes, staff, and reporters are under strict measure of COVID-19 protocols, generally the traveling outside the designated are are not allowed [17].  In addition, the frequent testing is required for the athletes.  Also the negative test results are required before heading to the venue and additional testing may be required after arrival depends on where they come from.  The residents are deeply concerned about the outbreak of Coronavirus from Olympic related activities.  83% of people want Tokyo Olympics to be either delayed or cancelled [18].  Not surprisingly, a series of protest against Tokyo Olympics were taking place prior to Olympic opening ceremony [19].  It was originally reduced capacity.  However, on July 9th, Tokyo Olympic Organizers announced that there will be no spectators at Olympic venues [20].

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Related Covid-19 Tests and Total Confirmed Cases as of August 7, 2021 [16]

Covid-19 Total Confirmed PositiveTotal Number of Confirmed Cases
At the Airport37
Tokyo 2020 On-site Screening Test138
Confirmatory Test, Pre-departure, Pre-Game Camps, Workforce outside on-site234

Number of COVID-19 Tests for Tokyo Olympics related personnel as of August 8, 2021 [16]

Tokyo 2020 On-site Screening Test Cumulative Number of TestsCumulative Number of PositivePositive Percentage
Athletes and officials277,339330.0119%
Other Stakeholder347,0251050.0303%

Total Number of Confirmed Cases for Tokyo Olympics related personnel as of August 8, 2021 [16]

Olympic Related Number of Arrivals from Overseas42,681+
InfectionTotal Number of Confirmed Cases
Residents of Japan286
Non-Residents of Japan150

The COVID-19 Hospitalization in Japan Reaches Record high

The COVID-19 related hospitalization in Japan hit the new record high 102,551 as of August 6, 2021 [22].  The number of new daily cases is reported 15,249 on August 5, 2021, also broke the single day record [23].  Furthermore, there was a huge pushback from healthcare workers for having Olympic Games this summer.  Because if the outbreak takes place, they are the ones to take care of those patients.  The pressure on the healthcare systems is already on rise prior to beginning of Olympic Games.  The recent surge of COVID-19 could push the healthcare systems to the limit.  The Japanese government announced a policy to shift for COVID patient hospitalization to limit only those who experience severe COVID-19 conditions or other severe illness [24].

This is calling some backlash from public [25].  However, it is still unknown that whether this Olympic Games played a role on recent surge.  Unfortunately, the COVID cases will linger even after Olympic/Paralympic Games, leaving the Japanese officials to deal with another dark side Tokyo Olympic Games.

The Future of the Olympic Games

Tokyo 2020 Olympics are facing multiple challenges. Undoubtedly, this is really unique situation, creating the multiple dark side of Tokyo Olympic Games, and unprecedented in our life time. The safety of workers and athletes is primary concern for Olympic Games. But certainly, it doesn’t have to cost human lives to host the games. Truly wish that these Dark Side Tokyo Olympic Games become a lesson and better will come out in the future. Lastly, applaud to the workers of Tokyo Olympics. They worked so hard to make this event possible while combatting with COVID-19 surge in Tokyo. They deserve credit for smooth operation of entire process under daunting summer heat. Thank you.


  1. Olympics construction worker dies as Tokyo swelters, heatstroke suspected
    accessed August 5, 2021
  2. Tokyo Olympic stadium worker’s death follows 190 hours of overtime in month
    Guardian News & Media Limited
    accessed August 6 , 2021
  3. Tokyo Olympic construction race raises worker safety questions
    accessed August 6 , 2021
  4. Explore the global situation – Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19)
    Our World In Data
    accessed August 6 , 2021
  5. Featured Image
    Secretaría de Deportes, CC BY 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  6. Past Weather in Tokyo, Japan — August 2019
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  7. Risks of heatstroke for the elderly: causes and preventive measures
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  8. Japan heatstroke death toll hits 162; lack of air conditioning cited
    Mainichi Newspapers
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  9. TOKYO 1964 Olympic Games History
    Japanese Olympic Committee
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  10. Japan’s Olympic organizers lied about its weather, and now athletes are paying the price
    Yahoo Sports
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  11. Heat and humidity make ‘Tokyo Summer the worst in the history of Olympics’
    CNN Sports
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  12. International labor organization criticizes 2020 Olympics working conditions
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  13. Rio auditor says 11 workers killed during Olympic construction
    ESPN Olympic Sports
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  14. Exploring the Record-Breaking Health and Safety Performance of the 2012 Olympic Games
    EHS Today
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  15. COVID-19 Information and Resources
    Office for Novel Coronavirus Disease Control, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of Japan
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  16. COVID-19 Positive Case List
    2020 – The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  17. The Playbook International Federations
    International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  18. Survey: 83% against holding Tokyo Olympics this summer
    The Asahi Shimbun
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  19. Olympics 2021: Protesters stage demonstration during opening ceremonies of Tokyo Games
    CBS Sports Olympics
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  20. Capacities at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
    The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  21. Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people
    Our World In Data Coronavirus – Japan
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  22. Coronavirus (COVID-19) infections in Japan
    Mainichi Newspapers
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  23. Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Situation Report in Japan
    Toyo Keizai Inc.
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  24. Japan to limit hospitalization of COVID-19 patients to most serious cases
    The Japan Times
    Accessed on August 7, 2021
  25. Japan’s COVID hospitalization limits draw lawmaker backlash
    Nikkei Inc
    Accessed on August 7, 2021

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