- TOKYO (AP)
IOC President Thomas Bach and local organizers are pushing back against reports that the postponed Tokyo Olympics will be canceled.
Now set to open July 23, the Tokyo Games were postponed 10 months ago at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, and now the event appears threatened again.
The Times of London, citing unidentified government sources, reported that the games will have to be canceled. It quoted an unidentified senior member of the ruling government coalition.
“No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” the person said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
In a statement Friday, the local organizing committee did not address directly The Times story, but said the Olympics were going forward and had the support of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
“All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the IOC and the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) are fully focused on hosting the games this summer,” the statement said.
“We hope that daily life can return to normal as soon as possible, and we will continue to make every effort to prepare for a safe and secure games.”
The IOC released a brief statement saying it is “fully concentrated on and committed to the successful delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 this year.”
The IPC added that it’s goal of having the games this year has not changed.
“There is no doubt the Tokyo 2020 Games will be very different to any previous games and that this summer’s event looks a long way off right now. However, we believe that with the robust measures and plans we have in place, the games can and will go ahead safely,” the IPC said.
Managu Sakai, the deputy chief cabinet secretary and an ally of the prime minister, also shot down the story.
“There is no such fact and we clearly deny (the report),” he said.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told her regular news conference on Friday that she has “never heard such a thing.” She even suggested action against the British newspaper.
“Perhaps we should file a protest,” she said.
The Times of London said Japan hoped to land the 2032 Olympics. The IOC has already awarded the 2024 Olympics to Paris and the 2028 version to Los Angeles.
The idea of Tokyo waiting a decade seems unlikely, given the cost of maintaining venues, negotiating new leases, and so forth. Tokyo has already spent about $25 billion to organize these Olympics, most of which is public money.
Several reports of a cancellation began to surface this month when the Japanese government put Tokyo and other prefectures under a state of emergency order to counter a surge of rising COVID-19 cases.
“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,” Bach told the Japanese news agency Kyodo on Thursday.
He also said there is “no Plan B.”
Senior International Olympic Committee member Richard Pound said earlier in the week that the Olympics may be held largely without fans, making it a mostly television event.
The Switzerland-based IOC gets 73% of its income from selling broadcast rights and has seen its main revenue source stalled by the Olympic postponement. A largely TV-only event would suit the IOC better than a cancellation.
Unlike other sports businesses that offer hundreds of games, the IOC has only two main events to sell — the Summer and Winter Olympics.
Bach hinted that radical changes may be needed to pull off the Tokyo Olympics, which involve 11,000 athletes and tens of thousands of coaches, officials, judges, VIPS, media and broadcasters.
About 4,400 athletes will attend the Paralympics, which are set to open Aug. 24.
“You may not like it but sacrifices will be needed, “ Bach said. “This is why I’m saying, safety first, and no taboo in the discussion to ensure safety.”
Japan has reported fewer than 5,000 deaths from the coronavirus and has handled the virus better than most countries. But the surge is not tapering off in Tokyo, a sprawling metropolitan area of 35 million.
Public opinion in Japan has also turned against the games with 80% in several polls saying they should be postponed again or canceled.
Bach said organizers were in a better position to hold the Olympics now than they were 10 months ago when the games were postponed.
“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,” Bach told Kyodo. “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.”
Japan is experiencing a slow roll out of vaccines. However, the IOC has said its measures against the virus will focus on testing, quarantines, social distancing and keeping athletes largely isolated.
The IOC has encouraged athletes to be vaccinated but will not require it.
Fans optional, TV essential
Former IOC vice president Dick Pound says the Tokyo Olympics could go ahead without fans. And he predicted the games will open on July 23 despite surging coronavirus cases in Japan and around the globe.
“The question is — is this a ‘must-have’ or ‘nice-to-have.’ It’s nice to have spectators. But it’s not a must-have,” Pound said in an interview with Japan’s Kyodo news agency.
Pound is no longer a part of the IOC’s decision-making executive board, but he has been speaking out recently to generate enthusiasm for the postponed Olympics.
His words come as recent polls in Japan show 80% of the public believe the Olympics should not happen with virus cases surging — or will not happen.
Pound, a veteran Canadian Olympic official and inaugural president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, repeated what the IOC and local organizers have been saying for months: the games will be canceled if they cannot be held this time. There will not be another postponement.
“It’s either 2021, or nothing,” he said.
Pound said “nobody can guarantee “the Olympics will open on July 23. But I think there’s a very, very, good chance that they can, and that they will.”
Pound’s words suggest the Olympics may be shaping up as a largely TV-only event with athletes kept in a bubble, transported back and forth to venues, and encouraged to leave Japan as soon as their participation ends.
Japanese media have said the opening ceremony will be limited to 6,000 athletes. About 11,000 are expected to compete in the Olympics. The Paralympics add another 4,400 athletes.
For the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee, getting the event on television — fans or no fans — is critical to its finances. IOC President Thomas Bach has acknowledged finances are under “pressure” because of the one-year postponement.
The IOC earns 73% of its revenue from selling broadcast rights. In Tokyo this could amount to $2 billion to $3 billion in lost income if the games were canceled.
“I think the IOC and the organizers are committed to going ahead with the games, if at all possible,” Pound said. “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.”
“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.”
The local organizing committee has budgeted $800 million in income from ticket sales. The absence of fans would mean a shortfall in revenue. Any shortfall will have to be assumed by various Japanese government entities.
Officially, Japan says it’s spending $15.4 billion to prepare the Olympics, However, several government audits suggest it’s $25 billion or more. All but $6.7 is public money.
The local organizing committee budget shows the IOC contributes about $1.3 billion to the financing of the Olympics.
A University of Oxford study published last year showed Tokyo is the most expensive Summer Olympics on record.
A date to watch is March 25 when the torch relay begins with 10,000 runners heading to Tokyo over a four-month journey. Kyodo said Pound suggested the relay could be shortened or canceled if necessary.
There was talk early of calling off the relay, but it is heavily sponsored by Toyota and Coca-Cola.
Tokyo and several other prefecture are under a state of emergency until at least Feb. 7. Japan has attributed about 4,700 deaths of COVID-19, relatively low for a country of 125 million.