Figuring out whether the Olympic Games will actually take place in Tokyo next summer is a challenge right now – especially with polls in Japan showing that upwards of 80 percent of the population are against hosting the Games as the country deals with a surge in Coronavirus COVID-19 cases. On Jan. 7 Japan declared a second state of emergency in Tokyo and surrounding areas.
Sir Keith Mills, the CEO of the London Olympics in 2021, told the BBC that “it is ‘unlikely’ that the Tokyo Games will take place this summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“I think they’ll leave it to absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically, in case the vaccinations roll out faster than we all hoped. It’s a tough call,” Mills said. “Personally, sitting here looking at the pandemic around the world, it looks unlikely I have to say. If I was sitting in the shoes of the organizing committee in Tokyo, I would be making plans for a cancellation and I’m sure they have plans for a cancellation. They’ve got another month or so before they need to make a call.”
The Games, which are scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug. 8 followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5, are supposed to host 11,000 athletes from 200 countries. The Games in Tokyo are reported to be the most expensive summer Games in history – in December the Associated Press reported that the Japanese government predicted the cost had ballooned from the original US$12.7 billion to over US$15,4 billion, but other media reports have cited government audits putting the cost at as much as $25 billion.
IOC members predict Games will go ahead
Canada’s former International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice president, Dick Pound, told Kyodo news yesterday that he thought “there’s a very, very, good chance that they can (go on), and that they will.”
Pound suggests that there are many different options still available to the IOC and Tokyo organizers, one of which is that the Olympics “can go ahead with out fans in attendance.”
“I think the IOC and the organizers are committed to going ahead with the games, if at all possible. And so they’re not going to cancel unless there’s a consensus among the government, health authorities and the IOC that it would be too dangerous,” Pound continued. “But at the moment, the plans are in place. All the indications are that we should go ahead. There’s no reason why the games can’t go on.”
Today IOC president Thomas Bach told Kyodo news that there’s no “plan B” for the Games this summer – “We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo.”
“First of all, let me be clear that you cannot compare March 2021 with March 2020 because there is such great progress in science, medicine, vaccination and (virus) tests,” he said. “All this was not available in March last year. Nobody knew yet how really to deal with the pandemic, and now we know much more.”
Olympic qualification process
Possibly a bigger challenge will be selecting athletes to compete in Tokyo this summer. Just over half of the potential Olympic qualifiers had been named when the Games were postponed last year and with COVID-19 cases surging in many spots around the world right now, it’s hard to imagine that qualifying events will be able to start up soon.