When First Lady Jill Biden enters the Olympic Stadium on Friday, leading the United States delegation to the games, she will not only mark a modern tradition of first ladies representing the United States abroad, but also provide support for the country. in a year when the number of Americans in the public is close to zero.
Dr Biden’s presence could mean more than usual this year amid rising COVID-19 cases in the United States and Japan, where the games are being held, along with suggestions that the Olympics could even be canceled after several athletes tested positive for the virus.
“In some ways it’s even more important,” said Anita McBride, who heads the First Ladies Initiative at American University, which studies the contributions women make in this role.
“It’s a representation of the president and the country. And there is no one who is closer to a president than his wife, ”added McBride, who was Laura Bush’s chief of staff. “She represents all of us and all those families that cannot be there.”
The official U.S. representation consists of just two people this year: Dr. Jill Biden and Acting Ambassador to Tokyo Raymond Greene.
It is not uncommon for the first lady to lead the Olympic delegation. Michelle Obama did so in 2012 in London, before opening the 2015 Special Olympics in Los Angeles. Laura Bush led U.S. officials to Turin, Italy, for the 2006 Winter Games.
One of the primary purposes of having a First Lady at the Games is to directly encourage and encourage American athletes at the Games. Team USA 2021 is the second largest in history.
In Tokyo this year, the typical athlete meet will be virtual, according to the first lady’s office, although Dr Biden is expected to host a softball watch night at the embassy with diplomats and their families for the United States against. Mexico. match and “cheering on American athletes at several Olympic events”.
And she is also part of a larger tradition of the first lady playing a role in foreign diplomacy, which dates back to Pat Nixon, who was the first FLOTUS to serve as the United States representative in a foreign country.
“She connected with people. She was really seen as very warm and was seen as a great representative of the American people, ”McBride said of Nixon.
While in Japan on Friday, Dr Biden was due to make a bilateral visit with Ms Mariko Suga, wife of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, after dining with the two on Thursday evening at Akasaka Palace. She will also meet Emperor Naruhito of Japan at the Imperial Palace.
Concerns about the coronavirus
In Tokyo on Thursday, on the eve of the opening ceremonies, new daily cases of COVID clashed the 2000 mark, the highest figure since January.
The 2020 matches – already delayed by a year due to the pandemic – have been linked to 71 cases as the total number of viruses in Japan also rises, and the tournament CEO hasn’t ruled out a cancellation if the going. get worse.
So far, five members of the U.S. team have tested positive for COVID-19 and will not compete in the games, along with a dozen other athletes from different teams.
Still, the first lady’s staff continued with the trip after consulting the White House medical unit before the trip, press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.
“They will have limited public interaction and they will take every precaution throughout their journey,” Psaki told reporters on Air Force One.
“It was important for the President and the First Lady to cheer on our athletes and show our support for the United States at the highest level,” she added.
Tokyo and Olympic officials have established a strict daily test protocol for athletes and participants, including distancing and tracking measures and no audiences.
The Biden administration’s response to the pandemic is still part of the journey: The first lady will visit a vaccination clinic in Honolulu, Hawaii, on her way back to the United States this weekend.
Olympic presidential appearances
It is rare for the president to make it to the Olympics, when other political priorities come to the fore, although a few have made appearances.
Without needing to travel far, Ronald Reagan opened the Los Angeles Games in his home state of California in 1984.
And in 2008, President George W. Bush attended the Beijing Olympics in a year that several other world leaders did as well.
During the events, Bush struck up a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to confront him with the escalation of violence against the country of Georgia and the “disproportionate response” from Russia, he told NBC at the period, calling it “unacceptable”.
While in Washington this week, it’s clear President Joe Biden is thinking about the importance of athletics.
Hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers this month, he said, “We need sports more than we ever imagined.”
The President added, “We see it now as fans return to stadiums and arenas across the country cheering on their favorite players and teams, sharing that sense of community and pride. It is a unifying element.