by Colin Campbell
THE delicately balanced UK debate over wearing facemasks appears not to have been delicately balanced in the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics.
Masks are worn at all times, and in all circumstances. And they are playing a big part in ruining the Games as a spectacle.
I stayed up into the early hours on Sunday to watch the finals in the swimming competitions.
The action was thrilling but the aftermath was saddening and utterly dispiriting.
As soon as competitors were out of the pool they were required to put on large face coverings which wiped out their faces. All that was visible was their eyes.
This applied to the gold, silver and bronze medallists too. They wore masks in a stadium devoid of spectators when they walked around the pool with the TV cameras trained on them. They wore masks when their pictures were being taken by a barrage of photographers. And worst all they had to wear masks on the podium when they were receiving their medals.
These were the supreme moments of their lives. Images were being taken on film and camera that will be with them forever, and will be passed down the generations in their families.
And all that they showed was a mask and two eyes. No emotion, no elation, none of the joy and ecstasy they must have been feeling at the peak moment of their lives. All hidden behind a cold, soulless mask.
Extensive Games precautions are necessary. But if we are in a world where it is deemed unsafe for supremely fit and healthy young people to walk around an almost empty stadium for a very few minutes without masks I really do despair.
How is it possible that this decision was sanctioned? That medal winners were deprived in their moment of ultimate glory of being allowed a few minutes of freedom of expression which they could share with the watching world and their loved ones and thousands of followers back home.
How could it be considered reasonable that in these circumstances, with every precaution being taken, that all we could see was a pair of eyes and a shatteringly ugly mask?
Years and decades ahead, when they look back on these images, how will they feel? That in their moments of ultimate triumph they were rendered literally faceless and devoid of emotion, cruelly robbed of a lifelong memento of visual celebration by these infernal and in the circumstances wholly unnecessary masks.
Some competitors now seem to be ignoring these rules, knowing what they’re missing out on. That is uplifting.
But Sunday morning’s alien and joyless spectacle was a saddening, depressing sight to see. I’ve watched and enjoyed every Olympic Games since the thrills in Mexico 53 years ago. But the Masked Olympics we are seeing is an overpowering reminder of the world we’re living in now, which at times like that can seem a truly hellish place.