Japanese officials slam Tokyo Olympics cancellation report

Japanese officials have today (Friday) strongly denied a report that the government is seeking to cancel Tokyo’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike suggesting an official complaint may be lodged.

UK newspaper The Times, citing a senior member of the ruling coalition, said there is agreement that the postponed Games are “doomed”. It added that Japan would instead focus on securing the next available edition of the Olympics. With Paris hosting in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028, this is currently 2032.

The latest report comes amid growing talk over the viability of the Olympics amid the latest wave of COVID-19 that is sweeping the world. It has drawn strong reaction from stakeholders in Japan. “We would like to fully deny (the report) by saying there is no truth to it,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai said at a press conference today.

“Of course we have to take into account the situation abroad, and we will decide on whether to actually hold the event at some point, but until then, the Japanese government will do what needs to be done.”

According to Japanese news agency Kyodo, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has repeatedly said a successful staging of the Games would prove humanity has overcome the virus, told the Diet the government is “considering specific anti-virus measures” to realise a safe event.

Koike is also adamant that cancelation and postponement of the Games have not been discussed. “I think we should submit a complaint,” she said. In a statement reported by the AFP news agency, the Tokyo 2020 organising committee said: “Prime Minister Suga has expressed his determination to hold the Games, the government is leading a series of coordination meetings for COVID-19 countermeasures and is implementing thorough infection countermeasures in order to be able to hold the Games.

“All our delivery partners… are fully focused on hosting the Games this summer. 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.”

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach yesterday moved to reiterate there is “no plan B” for this year’s Olympic Games. The 2020 Games were officially postponed on March 24 last year as COVID-19 took hold, with the Olympics now set to take place from July 23 to August 8, followed by the Paralympics from August 24 to September 5.

As well as the considerable logistical challenges involved in rescheduling, local organisers have also had to contend with putting into place measures to address a resurgence of the virus, both in the Japanese capital and for athletes and visitors arriving from overseas.

A state of emergency is currently in place for Tokyo and 10 other prefectures, while a recent poll by Kyodo showed that 80% of Japanese residents surveyed believe the Olympics should be cancelled or rescheduled, up from 61% in a previous survey conducted in December.

Earlier, long-time IOC member Dick Pound reaffirmed his belief that the Games can take place successfully without fans in attendance. However, he said that six or seven options are under consideration for spectators at venues, including that only Japanese citizens will be allowed to attend.

IOC/IPC response

The IOC and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have also seen fit to address the report. The IOC referred to the “strong and clear statement” from the Japanese Government saying that the report is “categorically untrue”.

The IOC added: “Together with its Japanese partners and friends, the IOC is fully concentrated on and committed to the successful delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 this year.”

The IPC went into further detail, stating that it, along with the IOC, Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and all delivery partners are “fully committed and focused” on delivering safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer.

The IPC added: “Since last March’s postponement, everyone involved in the delivery of the Games has been working tirelessly to develop COVID-19 countermeasures and plans which we believe will mitigate the risk for the athletes, all Games stakeholders and, importantly, the Japanese public.

“In early February, the IOC, IPC and Tokyo 2020 will publish the first editions of Playbooks targeting Games stakeholders. These Playbooks will start to explain exactly how we aim to deliver this summer’s event and outline the personal responsibilities each person attending the Games must follow to ensure safe and secure Games.

“Compared to March 2020, we now know much more about how the COVID-19 virus behaves, much more about how to organise safe sport events during a pandemic and are encouraged by the international roll-out of several vaccines.

“By the time of the Games this summer, we are optimistic that daily case numbers will be much lower than during these dark winter months. We are also confident that the extensive testing programme to be implemented before, during and after the Games – one of several measures that will be taken targeting Games stakeholders – will help minimise the risk of virus transmission.

“Finally, each sport event that has taken place globally since the outbreak of the virus has provided us all with valuable learning experiences which are helping to continually shape our plans for Tokyo.

“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.”

Image: Moyan Brenn/CC BY-SA 2.0/Edited for size