Japan and IOC give conflicting views on fate of the Olympics

The IOC said the games were rescheduled for July 2021 because Japan could not handle a longer postponement.
The IOC said the games were rescheduled for July 2021 because Japan could not handle a longer postponement.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (Bloomberg) - Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave conflicting statements about the prospect of delaying the 2020 Olympics beyond 2021, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage worldwide.

In a Q&A on its website, the IOC said the games were rescheduled for July 2021 because Japan had made clear it could not handle a longer postponement. The comments suggest that if the virus continues to disrupt global travel and commerce for longer than anticipated, the Olympics could be cancelled.

Japan's top government spokesman said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had not made such remarks. Questions about the timing of the 2020 Summer Olympics have come back to the forefront as the outbreak worsens in Japan and elsewhere.

Quarantine measures and stay-at-home orders have extended longer than expected, and any potential vaccines are only in the earliest stages of trials. Kentaro Iwata, a professor of infectious diseases at the country's Kobe University, said Monday he was pessimistic about the prospects for a 2021 Olympics, which brings together hundreds of thousands of people from around the world.

"Japan might be able to control this disease by next summer, and I wish we could," Iwata said in a briefing. "I don't think that would happen everywhere on earth."

The IOC published on its website a series of responses to what it said were frequently asked questions about the event, including queries as to why it was not re-scheduled for 2022, given uncertainty about the coronavirus.

"Our Japanese partners and the Prime Minister made it very clear that Japan could not manage a postponement beyond next summer at the latest," the organisation said.

"It is a mammoth undertaking, both for the Organising Committee and the country as a whole."

The IOC also said Abe had agreed Japan would "continue to cover the costs it would have done under the terms of the existing agreement for 2020," with the IOC staying responsible for its share.


Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday there was no agreement with the IOC on the extra costs, which are expected to run to hundreds of billions of yen. He had been present when Abe spoke to IOC President Thomas Bach and said he did not think Abe had ruled out the possibility of a further delay.

In an online press conference Tuesday, Tokyo 2020 organising committee spokesman Masa Takaya declined to comment on whether organisers have an alternative plan if the virus is not contained on time. Abe and Bach did not discuss who should shoulder the extra costs in their call on March 24, he said.

Hosting the Games as planned was expected to cost 1.35 trillion yen (S$17.3 billion), mostly covered by the organising committee and the host city.