The Olympic 2020: flame arrived in Japan on Friday, marking the beginning of official celebrations for a global sporting event that could still be derailed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Sporting groups from the National Basketball Association (NBA) to the European Championships and Formula 1 have canceled events to avoid large congregations of international spectators and athletes in recent weeks. But Japan insists that Tokyo 2020 will happen.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Wednesday it is “fully committed” to holding the games from July 24 and that measures were being taken to guarantee the “safety and interests of athletes, coaches and support teams.”
The nation of 125 million people has 1,662 confirmed cases of the virus, according to the country’s Ministry of Health. Experts have warned, however, that Japan’s low testing rate could be masking a higher number of infections.
US President Donald Trump said Thursday that G7 leaders had discussed postponing or canceling the Olympics this week, but that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “has not made a decision.”
On Monday, Abe said he had secured the backing of G7 leaders to hold the Olympics in their “complete form.” He did not comment when asked if there could be a delay.
Ultimately, it might not be down to Japan. The IOC can decide to call off the Games as late as May.
Japan Olympic Committee member Kaori Yamaguchi broke ranks on Friday, saying the Games should be postponed because some athletes had been unable to train. “The Olympics should not be held in a situation people in the world can’t enjoy,” the 1988 Olympics judo bronze medalist told.
Earlier, Shigeru Ishiba, a member of Japan’s ruling LDP party, warned that even if Japan manages to contain the virus at home, athletes and spectators may be coming from countries where the virus is still spreading.
“It’s possible that the Olympic Games will be canceled despite Japan’s best efforts,” Ishiba said.
Canceling the Games
Though the 1916 Summer Olympics were canceled due to the onset of WWI, and both the Summer Olympics of 1940 and 1944 were axed due to WWII, scrapping an Olympics in peacetime would be unprecedented.
Doing so would have ramifications on everything and everyone from the sponsors and broadcasters to the economy and athletes.
Organizers said in December that the cost of hosting the Olympics was 1.35 trillion yen ($12.35 billion) — and, according to Reuters, that figure did not include the cost of moving the marathon and walking events from Tokyo to Sapporo to avoid the summer heat, a decision taken in October 2019.
Massive investments had been made in improving Japan’s transportation networks, building venues and upgrading tourism facilities in anticipation of the 90 million visitors that Abe said Japan would welcome in 2020.
“They were thinking the Olympics could act as a backdrop for Japan that would broadcast to literally billions of people all around the world,” said Keith Henry, the president of Asia strategy, a public policy advisory group based in Japan.
It’s not just the capital that would take a hit from a possible cancellation or delay. Read more