Alan Hubbard

Those five Olympic rings will sound as hollow as they appear when the Games of 2020 finally begin next week.

The loudest roar will be from the Flame itself as it ignites and lights up a crowd-free, noiseless Tokyo and the Japanese capital's sporting environs for an event as long overdue as it has been long awaited.

At least the sound of silence will be golden - as well as silver and bronze, for medals will be unaffected, even if, because of the very nature of these COVID-19-clouded Games, performances are. Medallists will have to collect their own medals, however, owing to the health crisis.

Whether the Olympics will be as universally acclaimed as was football's European Championship before the English disease gripped even tighter than the coronavirus remains to be assessed.

Some television networks, including the BBC, are considering whether or not to introduce fake crowd noise but for the athletes, performing in such an atmosphere - or rather, lack of one - must seem akin to another training session. When records - and medals - are there for the taking, athletes feed on vocal encouragement.

At least the Euros, partially filled stadia, added some semblance of reality but if Tokyo needs to take heart from the absence of spectators it must be that there will also be an absence of the sort of aftermath that has surely blotted England's copybook as a contender, allied to other home nations and Ireland, to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup.

Ugly scenes marred England's UEFA European Championship final defeat to Italy ©Getty Images
Ugly scenes marred England's UEFA European Championship final defeat to Italy ©Getty Images

The Japanese mentality, of course, is such that such abysmally unseemly scenes could never occur after any major sporting event in the country. It is simply not in their psyche. The only demonstrations we are likely to witness on our TV screens will be from those participants who wish to take the knee or show allegiance to social causes that are within the approved jurisdiction of the International Olympic Committee.

Regrettably, Euro 2020, deservedly won by the best team, Italy, may now be viewed retrospectively as a tarnished tournament because a small minority of English fans used racism and hooliganism to spoil an event which had initially uplifted a dispirited world.

What happened both before and after Sunday night's (July 11) final would have shocked the watching world. We saw uncontrolled hordes of ticketless young men - it was hard to spot any women - in a reckless stampede, rushing up flights of stairs, pushing genuine ticket-holders out of the way, breaking down barriers, injuring other spectators, among them the father of England defender Harry Maguire, and occupying seats, some of which had been reserved for the disabled. It was a terrifying sight which one newspaper report likened to a prison riot.

Never mind the pandemic, it was pandemonium.

Even Sweet Caroline turned sour!

And similarly unedifying scenes after the game cannot have gone unobserved even by the mollycoddled VIPs from FIFA and UEFA.

Allow me to indulge with a few personal observations of my own: my granddaughter, sitting watching a pub TV with her boyfriend, was hit on the head by a flying beer bottle as the England forwards became the object of unmitigated fury as Italy's brilliant goalkeeper saved their penalties.

Early on Monday (July 12) morning a good friend who lives not far from Wembley Stadium phoned to tell me how he had witnessed scenes of drunken thugs urinating and vomiting in streets and gardens with broken glass, empty beer cans and vodka bottles littered everywhere. "Football's coming home" was a phrase local residents heard with dread, he observed wryly.

The England players who missed penalties have been subjected to vile abuse online ©Getty Images
The England players who missed penalties have been subjected to vile abuse online ©Getty Images

Then yesterday another friend told me of a friend of hers, who is black, was accosted from across the street as she walked to the shops in a quiet suburban Surrey town. A group of yobs yelled three numbers at her. They were those on the shirts of the three England players, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, who had missed penalties.

"Black b******s, just like you," came the spitted cry.

It makes the vast majority sick to the stomach to hear of such incidents, together with all of the rabid racial insults on social media and the defacing of the mural in Manchester of Rashford, the player who was hailed as a hero for his winning battle with the Government over free school meals for underprivileged kids.

Alas, nice as Gareth Southgate and his squad have come across, I am afraid the nation they represent in many ways remains a green but rather unpleasant land.

However, now it is time to tune in to Tokyo. These may not be the Olympic Games as we have come to know and love them but I have no doubt they will provide us with some element of fine sporting entertainment. No crowds, no noise. But there is still a tune jingling in my head that is 57 years old, dating from Tokyo 1964, the first of the dozen Games I have covered. "Good morning, Tokyo. Happy to be meeting you", was the enchanting melody we woke up to every morning. 

Well, happy to be seeing you, if not meeting you, again Tokyo.