Dr Liz Gordon: The pandemic games


Nearly half a million new cases of Covid 19 were reported in the world yesterday, and six and a half thousand people died from the virus on that day. Large upswings in infection are evident in the USA, Russia, the United Kingdom, parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia, Japan and Australia.

Set against that is the strong vaccination record of some countries, even though it is now clear that vaccination does not prevent infection. The UK health secretary has got Covid again, although it is a different minister and a different form of the disease, the Delta variant. And 55,000 cases there yesterday, and 80-odd deaths. 

Teams from most of the 100 countries that have seen Covid cases increase alarmingly over the past couple of weeks are about to arrive in Tokyo for the games.  I love the Olympic games and having them in Tokyo means that I can watch must of the sport during our daylight hours, with only a three hour time difference.

But the games should not have gone ahead. The decision to postpone them last year was the wrong one, looked at retrospectively. I can’t say I told you so, because I didn’t raise it at all. I remember feeling very conflicted. For some athletes, they only get one shot at the Olympics ever, and it seems cruel to remove the opportunity from them.

But Covid is the antithesis of the Olympics.  The games are the breath of life, the human spirit soaring, at its best. Covid is a mean little virus, that takes your breath away, even for those who have been vaccinated or who have Olympian skills.

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The hope that the Olympics could be held should have been removed with finality a year ago. Nothing to see here folks, see you in four years’ time.  Plan for then, not now.  But this has not happened. Against all odds, the games are going ahead. So, predictably, the infections have already started. And maybe, hopefully, these are just a little blip that will not lead to anything.

Even so, half the fun is gone.  There will be no spectators to see Valerie Adams perform. Our teams will probably not even be able to support each other, to shout ourselves hoarse for our people, to sing the National Anthem when we win gold.

A year ago, our peak athletes could have plotted their training course differently.  Now, the cancelling of the games, for which so many in Japan are calling, would lead to utter despair.  They should be cancelled, but I can see why they will not be.

You may note I am on the fence a bit more than usual.  Frankly, I am veering widely between the hope that things will be OK and dreams will be fulfilled, and terror that it is going to be a dreadful disaster.  What I don’t feel is complacency, which I have noticed a few DB readers have been expressing recently. I definitely am not of the view that the pandemic is all but over. I think we have a long way to go, and curbing our own human impatience will be a jolly good part of continuing to be safe. 

Holding the games now is a daft and damaging idea, but I do think it is too late to call them off. They are going to happen, for better or worse. I hope the better is lots of opportunities to sing “E ihoa, Atua” and that the worse is not devastating new infections across nations, fuelled by the Olympic gathering.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. “….even though it is now clear that vaccination does not prevent infection”

    I think that’s the idea with vaccines – you get the infection but it is milder.

    • That’s interesting, Andrew. I definitely grew up during a period where the aim of vaccination was disease elimination – polio, smallpox, tuberculosis were the three biggies then (we were expected to get the measles, rubella, chickenpox and, if unlucky, mumps and earn our immunity through surviving ill-health) (which left me with damaged eyes after an encounter with measles, aged 2). I had never considered vaccination as an ameliorative strategy -must ask Siouxsie what the goal is.

      • Surely this is message with the flu vaccine . I have a number of health issues and asked my doctor if it was wise to have the flu vaccine and he said it was but I could still become ill but not so badly .
        This is because of a varience in strains. He said it was the same with the covid vaccine

    • Vaccination essentially primes your immune system to be able to identify and quickly eliminate the virus. If it is efficient elimination will happen quickly, before you get sick or transmit it to others.

    • It was always clear that the Pfizer vaccine is designed to lessen symptoms, not prevent you from contracting the disease. The concerning thing is that it also doesn’t confer sterilised immunity, meaning that you can be a vaccinated carrier who passes either Covid on to someone else, or as Dr Geert Vanden Bosshe (possibly the most qualified critic of this type of vaccine – please refer to the start of the video) theorises, the vaccine allows and encourages mutation of the virus which is why he thinks we are getting more variants.

      All the Olympics does is speed up the transmission of each strain to different countries. Unless you happen to have sterilsed immunity (meaning you can’t contract or transmit the virus) vaccination won’t stop it.


  2. The mobilisation of medical staff during a pandemic to cater for an Olympics and Paralympics that on recent polling 83% of Japanese do not want, will cost lives.
    This is a monumental dereliction of leadership.
    The IOC’s reputation will suffer.


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