Despite recent reports that Japanese officials have privately concluded that the Olympics will have to be canceled, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) itself and local organizers are moving full steam ahead with a July to August hosting.
The Summer Olympics, which was postponed 10 months ago due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, are still on, set for July 24 to August 8, in Tokyo, Japan. At the moment, coronavirus cases are still soaring in Japan and around the world. In the latest global report, there are over 4,000 new cases in Japan and the total number of cases is about 365,000. Worldwide, the total number of cases has surpassed the 100 million mark and there have been over two million deaths.
IOC officials, government and health authorities in Japan, and the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) are watching the numbers closely as the months wind down prior to the scheduled start of the games. If it is called off, it will be just the fourth time in history that the Olympics is cancelled – the first three because of World War I and World War II.
Mike Sands, the Bahamian president of the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC), who recently presided over the postponement of the CARIFTA Games, said it is a dicey situation that must be carefully handled and addressed in the coming months. Even with CARIFTA, there is no guarantee that COVID-19 will be in remission and that a vaccine will be readily available by July 2-4 – the agreed postponed date of the junior regional event.
“I am cautiously optimistic that the world will be in a better place by this summer, so that we will be able to stage CARIFTA, the Olympics and other sporting events with some level of normality but I am also a realist,” said Sands. “We might have to experience reduced crowds and enthusiasm, but we have to be able to adjust to what is expected for these major events because there is no telling what the coronavirus numbers will be in the coming months. Hosting the Olympics and other major sporting events is going to be a challenge. From a media perspective, because of the limited amount of physical spectators, it could be beneficial for you guys because you will now have a wider audience. That could be an advantage for you guys, but as it relates to the competitive nature of sports, the presence of crowds is a vital component. We’re anticipating the best possible scenario going forward.”
If staged, this would be the first time in history that the Olympics would be held in an odd year. The event is still branded as the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Just last week, the Times of London, citing unidentified government sources, reported that the games will have to be canceled. Since then, the LOC has stated that plans are progressing for the staging of the Olympics and that they have the support of Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. The IOC released a statement saying it is “fully concentrated on and committed to the successful delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 this year”.
If the Olympics are not held this year, the next possible hosting date for Japan would be the year 2032. The IOC has already awarded the 2024 Olympics to Paris, France, and the 2028 version to Los Angeles, California.
It is understood that Metropolitan Tokyo has already spent about $25 billion to organize these Olympics.
IOC President Thomas Bach expressed confidence to Japanese reporters that the games will take place.
“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,” he said.
Just like for major sporting events around the world, organizers would have to adjust scheduling and format of the various competitions to ensure social distancing is in place and that safety measures and protocols are carried out. It is expected that the events will be held without spectators, catering mainly to television and online viewership.
Also, there could be limited athletes and teams, officials, media and volunteers allowed to take part in the running of the event. The Olympics is the grandest sporting spectacle in the world, and there is usually in excess of 10,000 athletes, coaches, officials, judges and affiliated persons taking part. At the last Olympics in 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, more than 11,000 athletes from 207 nations competed in 306 events in 28 sports. Given the ever-present nature of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, it is expected that there could be a limit on the number of visitors allowed to enter Japan.
“We are all in the same storm and we have to make the necessary adjustments,” said Sands. “COVID has caused all of us to think outside of the box. Coaches have to develop certain ways to ensure that the athletes remain motivated and that their conditioning is at a certain degree, so that they can compete at a high level when the level of normality arises. At the same token, the athletes have to stay focused and as incentivized as they can because there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Japan is at number 38 in the world in total coronavirus cases and has reported a little over 5,000 deaths. However, Bach is saying that organizers are in a better position to hold the Olympics now than they were 10 months ago when the Games of the 32nd Olympiad were originally postponed.
“Let me be clear that you cannot compare March 2021 with March 2020 because there is such great progress in science, medicine, vaccination and (virus) tests,” he said. “All this was not available in March last year. Nobody knew yet how really to deal with the pandemic, and now we know much more.”
According to reports, Japan is gradually progressing with the administering of vaccines. The IOC has stated that it will be focusing on testing, quarantines, social distancing and keeping athletes isolated.
The IOC is encouraging athletes to be vaccinated but will not require it.