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Olympic rings are set up at Trocadero plaza that overlooks the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, France, on Sept. 14, 2017.Michel Euler/The Associated Press

Like the rest of the event, the closing ceremony of Tokyo’s Olympics were a drag.

Japan had been iffy on the Games long before they arrived, and mentally checked out when it became clear it would be forced to hold them in the teeth of the pandemic.

Regular COVID testing was required. Test results were updated on an app downloaded to your phone. Anyone with a badge could ask you to produce the app at any time.

The teenage dictator who staffed our local bus stop absolutely loved doing spot checks. She loved them so much that if the bus was running late, she’d sometimes do them twice.

I remember her bellowing “PHONE!” better than any gold-medal match at that Olympics. It was a weird three weeks.

The people you encountered in Tokyo weren’t especially welcoming or unwelcoming. Mostly they seemed weary. As though they were fulfilling a promise they regretted making. Who could blame them?

Maybe that’s why the five-minute video reveal for Paris 2024 shown right at the end had such an impact.

Along with some slick choreography, it included a live shot of thousands of maskless Parisiens gathered under the Eiffel Tower. No app checks required. They were waving flags while fighter jets did a bleu-blanc-et-rouge flyover.

Not much that happens in a sports arena hits me in the feels any more, but that shot had me welling up. People? All bunched together? Looking happy? Were such things allowed any more?

In that moment, Paris didn’t just promise the first great Games since London 2012. Maybe it would be the cultural touchstone of the young century. A global Woodstock for the digital age.

And while I still believe it will be a milestone, I’m not sure how binding it will be.

If 2023 was the year sports tried to shuffle politics from the foreground to the background, 2024 will be the year politics shuffles back. Most of that manoeuvring will happen at the Olympics.

They managed to tamp down the politics at Beijing 2022 because there was no one there to talk politics with. No fans means no protests. The athletes could have caused a fuss, but they all seemed to understand that China is not a ‘speak your truth’ sort of place.

They managed to keep a lid on everything until the end, whereupon Russia almost immediately invaded Ukraine.

The IOC promised to remain above the fray, whether or not that upset people. That stand lasted less than a day. When it became clear that the Paralympics would collapse if Russian athletes were allowed to compete, they were extrajudicially ejected.

And that’s how we’ve left it. Not so much with a pin in it, but with a gag over its mouth.

Since then, things have become more fraught. Perhaps you recently discovered just how much as you were screaming/being screamed at over the holiday dinner table. And the U.S. presidential cycle hasn’t really kicked off yet.

This will be the year of being-very-careful-what-you-say-to-whom. Or not.

We’ve spent the most of the past decade adjusting to the idea that there is no separation between regular life and our pastimes. Each should bleed into the other.

If you are fighting the good fight at work, you should fight it at the ballpark, the movie theatre and the museum as well. Eventually, fighting becomes the pastime.

There was a window in which pro sports went along with this, but it’s closing. The pros are too invested in the peaceful act of getting really rich. Picking fights could hamper their lifelong competitive dream of getting a Revlon contract.

Amateur sports loves an ethical dust-up and always has, but it doesn’t generate enough heat to attract real rage. Who wants to picket a track meet if no one’s there?

The only place where you get a pro-sport-sized audience and an amateur-sports-style commitment to the cause is at the Olympics. Thanks to the IOC’s soft ‘no politics here’ policies, those forces have been kept in balance for years. How likely do you think that is to continue?

Take a for instance. At the Tokyo Games, an Algerian judoka, Fethi Nourine, refused to fight an Israeli opponent. In response, the International Judo Federation suspended Nourine for 10 years.

It was a story, but it wasn’t a story story. Not like Simone Biles was a story.

Fighters from Muslim countries have been refusing to fight Israelis for years. The entire Iranian judo program was once suspended indefinitely for the practice.

The law of averages strongly suggests it will happen again in Paris. How big a story do you think it will be this time?

The new rules of politics in pastimes hold that everyone must have an opinion on everything that’s happening everywhere. Refusing to have an opinion is the worst sort of opinion because it puts you on the outs with everyone.

At an Olympics, there is no escaping the media. Athletes are available to them at every point in their competition. Just to get out of the venue you have to run a literal gauntlet of reporters.

Every controversy in Paris is a spark. Every mixed zone is kerosene. There will be fire.

At the Olympics, every participant enjoys a massive, temporary status boost. It’s not the 38th-ranked breakdancer in the world popping off about the rules of war. It’s an American Olympian speaking on behalf of America (or, more likely, speaking for half of America).

You can see the problem coming a long way off.

Of all the things that happen in sports this year, none will make as much news as the Paris Olympics, or do more to determine the tenor of conversation going forward. If those Olympics are a free-for-all, that mania will begin to infect other leagues. There aren’t many original thinkers in sports. If all-out rhetorical war is the new in thing, others will give it a try.

By the same token, a Games in which participants with wildly divergent ideas and opinions manage to come together in friendly competition without feeling the need to denigrate each other could go some way to lighting the path ahead for all of us. But I won’t be holding my breath.

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