Tokyo Olympics: Cancellation rumours persist with just six months to go for opening ceremony

Tokyo Olympics get underway in exactly six months from today, on 23 July, but the future remains unclear owing to the pandemic situation.

FP Sports January 23, 2021 15:41:17 IST
Tokyo Olympics: Cancellation rumours persist with just six months to go for opening ceremony

IOC President Thomas Bach (C) visits the National Stadium in Tokyo. AP

The postponed Tokyo Olympics are now exactly six months away. The opening ceremony is scheduled to be held on 23 July, as planned, insist International Olympic Committee and the local organisers. But it remains uncertain how the Games will be held considering rising coronavirus cases in Japan's capital and around the globe. This has resulted in different views by different people in organising this enormous event.

Organisers 'determined', public support drops

On Friday, deputy government spokesperson said there was "no truth" to the report by UK's The Times which quoted an unnamed source as saying "the consensus is that it's too difficult" to hold the Games.

"I am determined to realise a safe and secure Tokyo Games as proof that mankind will have overcome the virus," said Japan's PM Yoshihide Suga.

Games organisers also said they were "fully focused on hosting the Games this summer".

Australian Olympic Committee, who had declared they won't be sending teams to Tokyo last year before the Games were eventually postponed, ruled out another withdrawal.

"The Tokyo Games are on," said the CEO Matt Carroll in Sydney. "It will be a very different Games, simpler, with a focus on the athletes and their competitions."

The quashing of report comes a day after International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said "there was no plan B".

"We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July."

"This is why there is no plan B and this is why we are fully committed to make these games safe and successful," Bach told Kyodo News.

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said this week that the organising committee is "unwavering" on holding the event this year, but couldn't rule out staging it without spectators.

Japanese minister Taro Kono, who is part of Suga's cabinet, acknowledged the Olympics are in doubt. "I should say anything is possible. It could go either way.”

A key date to watch out for is 25 March when the torch relay begins from northern Japan and involves 10,000 runners to bring it into the capital after four months. Given the pandemic, it seems challenging for the relay to go ahead but the odds of it being cancelled seem low given the heavy sponsorship it has drawn.

Keith Mills, 2012 London Olympics deputy chair of the organising committee, expects a late decision on the fate of the Games. “But I think they’ll leave it until absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically, in case the vaccinations roll out faster than we all hope,” Mills told the BBC. “It’s a tough call, I wouldn't like to be in their shoes.”

Even as organisers and government officials hope to host the Summer Games, recent public poll said around 80 percent of Japanese people want the Olympics should be cancelled or postponed again. The IOC, however, have said they will not be postponed again and will be cancelled if they cannot be held.

The Olympics have been cancelled five times — all in wartime. The 1916, 1940 and 1944 Summer Olympics were cancelled, as were the 1940 and 1944 Winter Olympics. Tokyo Olympics became the first event to be postponed.

COVID-19 situation in Japan

In January, amid a surge in infections, state of emergency was declared in multiple prefectures which affects more than half of the population. The state of emergency lasts until 7 February and asks establishments to close early, businesses to work at lower capacity and residents are barred from leaving residences unless for essential purposes.

Japan had undergone an emergency situation last year in April and May but this time the declarations are non-binding and rely on voluntary cooperation. Schools, gyms, theatres and shops have remained open.

Tokyo reported 1471 new cases on Thursday and 5621 across Japan. The death toll has now expanded to 758 in the capital and 4872 in the country.

Magnitude of the Olympics

Multiple sports have returned and teams, players have been allowed to travel. Some 1200 people have travelled from across the world for tennis' Australian Open. But everything is dwarfed by the magnitude of an Olympics.

They involve 11,000 athletes, and the Paralympics add another 4,400. The athletes represent 206 nations or territories. In addition, tens of thousands of others are involved, including coaches, judges, administrators, media and broadcasters.

On top of that is the large influx of fans – both domestic and international. Last year, the organisers had said 4.48 million Olympic tickets had been sold in Japan, with 970,000 tickets for the Paralympics. Organisers claimed a total of 7.8 million Olympic tickets had been available overall. The organisers had budgeted $800 million in income from ticket sales in Japan and abroad.

Fans at the Olympics

Tokyo Olympics Cancellation rumours persist with just six months to go for opening ceremony

Fans enter a baseball stadium before a Japanese baseball league game between the Hanshin Tigers and the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in Yokohama on 30 October. AP Photo

It is unclear if fans will be allowed at venues, and it has become increasingly doubtful that international fans will be permitted to enter Japan.

Former IOC VP Dick Pound said in an interview that fans were not needed to hold the Olympics. "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.”

Few fans have been allowed into stadiums in Japan but there are plenty of restrictions. Beyond the masks, social distancing and regular hand sanitisation, fans were asked not to cheer, talk loudly, eat, drink, or wave flags.

At a gymnastics test event in Tokyo in November and Emperor's Cup football final this month, the roaring sounds of celebration and cheers have been replaced by polite applause and murmured appreciation of the athletes.

"Some fans said they didn't want to come if they couldn't support the team the way they usually do. The atmosphere is completely different," said a Kawasaki Frontale fan.

"Japanese people tend to watch what people around them are doing, and when they see that other people aren't shouting, they don't shout either," said another fan who plans to volunteer at the Olympics.

"This style of support in the J-League has sunk in... but everyone coming here for the Olympics will be experiencing it for the first time," he added.

"We've had practice, but for them it will be new."

Finances of the Tokyo Olympics

Tokyo Olympics Cancellation rumours persist with just six months to go for opening ceremony

Tickets for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are on display Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

For IOC and Tokyo 2020, getting the event on TV – fans or no fans – is critical to its finances. Bach has acknowledged finances are under “pressure” because of the one-year postponement.

The IOC earns 73 percent 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 cancelled. Another 18 percent of revenue comes from sponsors and the third biggest contributor is ticket sales.

Officially, Japan says it is spending $15.4 billion to prepare the Olympics. However, several government audits suggest it is $25 billion or more. All but $6.7 billion is public money. Local sponsors have also poured in $3.5 billion. If there are no fans, will sponsors stick around remains to be seen.

The local organising committee budget shows the IOC contributes about $1.3 billion to the financing of the Olympics.

A University of Oxford study published last year concluded that Tokyo is the most expensive Summer Olympics on record.

(With inputs from AP, AFP)

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