Tokyo 2020: Will they, won’t they?

2 minute read
Words Benedict Tufnell
Photography Steve McArthur and Benedict Tufnell
Published 21.01.21

Despite the rollout of vaccines globally, speculation over whether the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will go ahead this summer has intensified in recent weeks as more contagious variants of the coronavirus emerge and Japan struggles to contain rising infection rates. 

Insidethegames reported today that Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui has claimed the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games should be postponed to 2024 because of the coronavirus crisis.

Photo The Tokyo 2020 rowing venue, as photographed at the 2019 World Rowing Junior Championships.
Credit Steve McArthur

Matsui told The Mainichi newspaper that Tokyo organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should aim for 2024 with Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 each pushed back by four years. 

“The whole world is facing unprecedented times,” Matsui said. “Japan should assume the role of negotiating with the IOC while aiming for (the Games to be held in) 2024.” “The worst-case scenario is to cancel the Olympics. I think that Paris is also facing extreme difficulties for preparations as the host of 2024, so the Games should be pushed back by four years each.”

Sir Matthew Pinsent, the British four-time Olympic rowing gold medallist made a similar suggestion earlier in January, calling for the IOC to show “strong leadership” and move Tokyo to 2024. 

The fresh concerns over staging an Olympics this summer are in response to rising coronavirus cases in a number of countries and the emergence of new, more contagious, strains of the virus. 

The website insidethegames reported Thursday that “Japan has been among the countries to report rising infections, thought to be largely caused by more transmissible variants of Covid-19.” 

Meanwhile a recent Kyodo News survey found around 80 per cent of Japanese people want this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo to be cancelled or postponed.

Earlier this week the former chief executive of the London 2012 Olympics, Sir Keith Mills, told the BBC it is “unlikely” that the Tokyo Games will take place this summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He went on to say that organisers should now be “making plans for a cancellation”.

Amid the calls to cancel or postpone the games this summer, organisers, the IOC, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga have repeatedly insisted the games, postponed by a year, and scheduled to begin on July 23, will go ahead this summer as planned.

With just days until the six-month countdown to the games, IOC president Thomas Bach, speaking to Kyodo News, declared on Thursday that the Tokyo Olympic Games will go ahead as scheduled this year, stating that there is “no plan B” in place.

Photo IOC President Thomas Bach (centre) with World Rowing President Jean-Christophe Rolland (right) at the 2018 World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Credit Benedict Tufnell

“We have, at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on 23 July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo,” said Bach.

“This is why there is no plan B and this is why we are fully committed to make these games safe and successful,” he added.

Former IOC Vice President Dick Pound has suggested the games should go ahead, but behind closed doors and without spectators. Japanese media, according to The Guardian newspaper, 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.”

According to a report today in The Guardian, staging a televised Olympics this summer will be critical for the IOC’s finances, which have already been impacted by the postponement. They report that with “the IOC earning 73% of its revenue from selling broadcast rights,” for Tokyo this could amount to “$2bn to $3bn in lost income if the games were cancelled.”