Despite virus surge, IOC pledges Summer Olympics in Tokyo will happen

By Victor Mather

With the coronavirus surging in much of the world, including a spike in Japan, the president of the International Olympic Committee on Thursday sought to quell doubts about the Summer Games in Tokyo proceeding in July while not ruling out a cancellation.

“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,” Thomas Bach told Kyodo News. “There is no plan B.”

Bach also said that as of now, the Winter Olympics in Beijing, scheduled for February 2022, would also be held on time, Kyodo News reported.

His comments were in line with his previous statements on the matter, but his offering of reassurance arose after a high-ranking Japanese government official was more equivocal about the chances the Games would happen. That followed a comment by a longtime IOC board member who also told a news organization he was not sure the Games, the largest sports event in the world, would go off as planned.

The Tokyo Games, originally scheduled for 2020, were rescheduled to this summer because of the pandemic. But the eradication of the virus has proved stubborn, and worldwide death tolls have risen.

Organizers and IOC officials have said that no further postponement is possible and that if the Games do not proceed in the summer of 2021 they will be canceled, which would be the first time the Games have been scrubbed since World War II.

For much of 2020, Japan held the virus mostly in check, but in the past few months cases have soared to 5,000 or more a day. Earlier this month, Japan declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and nearby areas, its first since April. Vaccination will not begin until late February, and mass vaccination not until May.

As a result, sentiment against the Games has risen in Japan. A poll this month by the Japanese broadcaster NHK showed that 77% of the country favored canceling or postponing the Games.

Taro Kono, a member of Japan’s Cabinet, told Reuters this month that the Games “could go either way.”

Bach has consistently maintained that the Games would proceed. He has taken to saying that the Olympic Games will be “the light at the end of a dark tunnel.”

The Olympics would stand to lose $1 billion or more in television revenue should the Games be canceled.

Bach said that a determination on how many fans, if any, could attend the Games this summer, was still to be made. Tight border controls in Japan may severely curtail spectators or journalists from attending, and those who do arrive may have their movements in the country monitored and restricted. Athletes may be asked to arrive just before their events and depart immediately afterward rather than celebrate in the city and enjoy the camaraderie of the Olympic Village as Olympians tend to do.

Beyond Beijing in 2022, the 2024 Summer Games are scheduled for Paris, the Winter Games in Milan in 2026 and Los Angeles will host the Summer Olympics in 2028.

Despite the concerns, there does appear to be a resolve among international sports officials to go forward. Sebastian Coe, the head of the world track and field federation, said this month: “Of all the countries on the planet that really has the fortitude, and resilience and the street smarts to see this through, it is actually Japan. I wake up as a federation president really grateful that it is Japan that’s dealing with this and not some other places that I can think of. So I’m sure we will be there.”

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