Coronavirus pandemic

If crisis not over, Tokyo games are off

The countdown clock for the Olympics outside Tokyo Railway Station last week. It was reset last month after the Games were postponed by 12 months but it is by no means certain the event will go ahead if the pandemic is not under control by next year.
The countdown clock for the Olympics outside Tokyo Railway Station last week. It was reset last month after the Games were postponed by 12 months but it is by no means certain the event will go ahead if the pandemic is not under control by next year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

No further delay, organising chief points out but spokesman says remarks are Mori's own

TOKYO • The postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics will have to be cancelled if the coronavirus pandemic is not brought under control by next year, the organising committee's president warned, ruling out further delays.

The comments, in an interview with a Japanese sports daily published yesterday, came as medical experts doubted whether the pandemic can be sufficiently contained by next year to hold an event drawing participants and spectators from around the world.

The pandemic has already forced a year-long delay of the Games, which are now scheduled to open on July 23, 2021.

But Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori was categorical when asked by the Nikkan Sports daily whether the Games could be delayed until 2022 if the pandemic remains a threat next year, replying: "No."

"In that case, it's cancelled," said the former prime minister.

The Games have been cancelled previously only during wartime.

Masa Takaya, a Tokyo 2020 spokesman, declined to comment on a possible cancellation of the Games and told reporters that Mori's remarks were based on "the chairman's own thoughts".

But the comments will add to growing questions about the postponement, decided last month after heavy pressure on the organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from athletes and sports federations.

Yesterday, the head of the Japan Medical Association warned that it would be "exceedingly difficult" to hold the Games next year if a vaccine has not been found.

"I would not say that they should not be held, but it would be exceedingly difficult," Dr Yoshitake Yokokura told reporters.

Last week, a Japanese medical expert who has criticised the country's response to the coronavirus warned that he was "very pessimistic" that the postponed Olympics can be held next year.

Takaya countered that even medical experts said it was too early to make a judgment on such a possibility.

AGAINST THE ODDS

I would not say that they should not be held, but it would be exceedingly difficult.

DR YOSHITAKE YOKOKURA, president of the Japan Medical Association, who doubts that the Games can go ahead if a vaccine for Covid-19 has not been developed.

Japanese officials and the IOC have said the Games will be a chance to celebrate victory over the virus, with some suggestions that the pandemic fight could even be incorporated into the opening ceremony.

Postponing the Games is an enormous logistical and financial challenge, with the final price tag for the delay still unclear.

In the interview, the 82-year-old Mori said the Tokyo organisers were considering holding joint opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics and the Paralympics in an effort to cut costs.

Under the plan, the Paralympics would join the Olympic opening ceremony on July 23, and the Olympic closing ceremony would be integrated into the Paralympics closing event in September.

But Mori admitted that the organisers had not yet obtained the consent of the IOC and its Paralympic counterparts. Tickets for all four ceremonies have been sold, further complicating the issue.

"It's going to be a considerable cut in costs and a big message of victory against the global crisis, but it's not easy," he said.

Organisers have said the question of who will shoulder the additional costs has yet to be resolved, though Mori said the IOC should pay a share. Japanese media have reported that the delay will cost an additional 300 billion yen (S$4 billion) to the US$12.6 billion (S$17.9 billion) budget.

Takaya said extra costs were still being finalised, adding that organisers had never mentioned "this concrete number of 300 billion yen".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2020, with the headline 'If crisis not over, Tokyo games are off'. Print Edition | Subscribe