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Despite the pandemic, world can be proud of these Olympic Games

August 8, 2021 GMT

Tokyo went ahead with the Olympic Games, against domestic public opinion and expert medical advice, as the coronavirus pandemic raged around the world. This newspaper added its misgivings to a global clamour of concern about the possible consequences. In hindsight, if we had that time over again, we would express them again, in the interests of global health.

Last night’s closing ceremony ended a controversial chapter of Olympic history which, hopefully, will never be repeated. That said, Tokyo has all but pulled off an unlikely triumph. It seems to have confounded the worst fears of an outbreak, although we do not know for sure yet as athletes return home.

It would be mean-spirited now not to say congratulations to the Tokyo organising committee, the International Olympic Committee and Japan for a job well done in unimaginably difficult circumstances.

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About 11,000 athletes achieved the shared goal of Olympic competition for which they had trained for years under trying conditions, providing morale-boosting relief from pandemic gloom for a global television audience. They performed in empty stadiums and venues, without the support of family, friends and fans forced to stay at home.

Other safety measures set these Games even further apart, with social-distancing, rules, daily Covid-19 testing, hugs and high-fives discouraged, and medal winners collecting them along with bouquets from trays and put them around their own necks.

The Olympics remain one of the few events that can bring nations and people together. These Games set the gold standard for organising mega events in unprecedented difficult circumstances. China, host of next year’s Winter Olympics, has much to reflect on.

The Olympics are ultimately about the athletes. Hong Kong’s team of 44 have united the city with pride in their performances amid the divisive aftermath of social unrest.

The highlights included a gold medal for fencer Edgar Cheung Ka-long ” Hong Kong’s first for 25 years ” and two silver medals for swimmer Siobhan Haughey. A bronze yesterday for women’s sprint cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze to add to the one she won in the keirin in London in 2012 put the icing on the cake. Bronze medals in karate for Grace Lau Mo-sheung, and in the women’s table tennis team event for Lee Ho-ching, Doo Hoi-kem and Minnie Soo Wai-yam made up a record tally of six medals.

Only three times have the Olympics been cancelled, and then only because of world wars. The IOC and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga were unshakeable in their resolve not to cancel these Games. They have shown what can be done in the face of adversity and trepidation.

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The final cost in the spread of infection is yet to be tallied, if it is ever known. But Tokyo 2020 is a landmark example to a world trying to maintain normal life in uncharted territory.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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