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Tag: Olympic Games

Are the Olympics cancelled?

A senior Japanese ruling party official said on Thursday that cancelling this year’s Olympics in Tokyo remains an option if the coronavirus crisis becomes too dire, dropping a bomb on a hot-button issue and sending social media into a frenzy.

“If it seems impossible to do it any more, then we have to stop, decisively,” Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said in comments to broadcaster TBS.

Cancellation is “of course” an option, he said, adding: “If the Olympics were to spread infection, then what are the Olympics for?”

With the country in the midst of a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, doubts over whether Tokyo would be able to host the Summer Games – already an unpopular idea with the public – have resurfaced in recent weeks.

But government and organising officials have consistently insisted the Games would go ahead, and the fact that a ruling party heavyweight made the comment was enough to give his comments top billing on domestic news. “Olympics Cancelled” was trending on Twitter in Japan with more than 45,000 tweets from users as of Thursday afternoon.

“If this person says it, Olympics cancellation looks like a reality,” tweeted @marumaru_clm in reference to Nikai, who is a key backer of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and is known for his frank comments.

“Yay! This is great! Finally, it’s cancelled, cancelled, cancelled!” tweeted another user, @haruha3156.

Nikai later issued a written statement to explain his stance.

“I want the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics to succeed,” the statement said. “At the same time, to the question of whether we would host the (Games) no matter what, that is not the case. That’s what I meant by my comments.”

The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) and the Tokyo government declined to comment, while the Tokyo 2020 organising committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

INFECTIONS SURGE

Japan is grappling with rising COVID-19 infections, with new cases in Tokyo jumping to 729 on Thursday, the most since early February. Tokyo, Osaka and several other prefectures entered a quasi-state of emergency this month, asking bars and restaurants to shorten their hours.

Still, the government is pushing ahead with preparations incorporating social distancing measures and other restrictions for the postponed Games, which are set to begin on July 23 and will be held without international spectators. A scaled-back torch relay is already underway.

“We’ll hold (the Games) in a way that’s feasible,” Taro Kono, a popular minister in charge of Japan’s vaccination drive, said on a separate TV programme, according to Kyodo News. “That may be without spectators,” he added.

Japan’s top medical adviser, Shigeru Omi, acknowledged the pandemic had entered a fourth wave, driven by mutant strains, with Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura urging in a magazine commentary that the Olympics be postponed.

Akira Koike, an opposition lawmaker with the Japanese Communist Party, reacted to Nikai’s comments on Twitter saying that holding the event was already “impossible” and that a swift decision on cancellation should be made.

Cancelling or postponing the Games would probably not hurt Japan’s economy much but would have a larger effect on Tokyo’s service sector, a senior International Monetary Fund official said on Wednesday.

Tokyo Olympics: definitely going ahead

The Olympic rings have been spruced up and are once again overlooking Tokyo Bay. 

They are supposed to build excitement in the host city and among sports fans around the world. But Japan’s Olympic dream is quickly turning sour in the face of the worst global health crisis for a century.

Almost a year after Tokyo 2020 became the first Games to be postponed in the modern Olympics’ 125-year history, officials and politicians face opposition from the Japanese public and, crucially, scepticism among athletes, sponsors and volunteers.

As the world grapples with a pandemic that has killed more than 2 million people, the official line is that the Games will open, as planned, on 23 July. This week the organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are due to release Covid “playbooks” detailing exactly how they intend to make that happen.

“We are not speculating whether the Games will take place,” Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC, said recently. “We are working on how the Games will take place.”

The Olympics have been thrust back to the predicament they faced early last spring, when the pandemic forced organisers to concede that the Tokyo Games would have to be delayed by a year.

The rescheduled event, the then Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said, would be a celebration of humankind’s victory over the coronavirus. But that mantra – repeated by his successor, Yoshihide Suga – is ringing hollow, with opinion polls showing that a once-enthusiastic Japanese population is now firmly opposed to Tokyo 2020. In a recent survey by the Kyodo news agency, 80% thought the Games should either be postponed or cancelled altogether.

While the human cost of the coronavirus is dramatically higher than it was at this point last year, so too are the financial stakes for the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organisers now that they no longer have the cushion of a second delay.

As the Olympic clock ticks, officials are looking to vaccination as a potential saviour – part of a “toolbox” of measures that would ensure the Games could go ahead “safely”, Bach said, with Denmark and Israel among the countries vowing to inoculate their entire delegations.

Wary of being seen to encourage young, healthy men and women to jump the vaccine queue, however, both Bach and Japanese government officials have stated that vaccination is not a condition for competing in Tokyo.

The Australia Olympic Committee has said vaccination is “strongly recommended for the safety of athletes and the Japanese community”. Yet vaccinated people may still be able to carry and transmit the virus, and the Olympics will be held in the only major economy yet to begin an inoculation programme.

Japanese medical workers will be the first to be vaccinated from the end of February, followed by 36 million people aged 65 and over from around April. With vaccinations for Japan’s older population expected to take around three months, large sections of the host nation could still be unprotected when the Games open. When asked when the general population could expect to receive a jab, Japan’s vaccination tsar, Taro Kono, replied: “I don’t know.”

Organisers are convinced they can monitor the health and control the movements of 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes in a “sanitary bubble” in Tokyo. Spectators, though, pose a much bigger problem. Ideas being floated by the IOC and organisers range from allowing full stadiums, cutting venue capacities by half and banning spectators – an approach publicly backed by Mitt Romney and Sebastian Coe, both of whom have previously organised Olympic Games – in what would be the first Olympics watched entirely on TV.

There was indignation after a recent report that the Japanese government had privately conceded the Games would have to be cancelled. Yasuhiro Yamashita, the chairman of the Japan Olympic Committee, dismissed the report, in the Times, as “wrong and ridiculous”, while the Japanese government said the claims were “categorically untrue”.

Whatever the prevailing view among politicians, some athletes and advertisers appear to be having second thoughts. Unconvinced by official assurances, Japan’s Olympic sponsors have scaled back advertising campaigns and delayed marketing events. Firms including Canon and Japan Airlines are concerned that organisers have not shared contingency plans for a cancellation.

“We’re asking ourselves, ‘Are we really going to do this?’” one unnamed sponsor told Reuters, adding that even raising the possibility of a plan B had been discouraged by organisers.

While the British Olympians Mo Farah and Adam Peaty have talked up the Games’ prospects, their Japanese counterparts are more circumspect. Of 126 athletes interviewed, in confidence, by the Asahi newspaper, 25 said they were concerned the Olympics would help spread the virus. Eighteen were worried about becoming ill themselves, and 15 attributed their blunted enthusiasm to a lack of public support.

“We have, at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on 23 July,” Bach said last month. “This is why there is no plan B, and this is why we are fully committed to making these Games safe and successful.”

His words will sound familiar to more observant followers of the drama unfolding around Tokyo 2020. The last time Bach insisted there was “no plan B” was in March 2020, just days before the pandemic – and reality – finally caught up with the Olympic movement.

 

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