Coronavirus pandemic

'Real problems' beset Tokyo Games in 2021

IOC official says Olympics face the axe if issues not resolved; organisers stay positive

SYDNEY • A senior Olympics official has warned that Tokyo Games organisers face "real problems" staging the Olympics next year as coronavirus infections continue to soar, with even a vaccine unlikely to stave off the threat to the world's foremost sporting competition.

John Coates, the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) point man for the Tokyo 2020 Games, also indicated officials would start deciding in October if and how the pandemic-hit Games can go ahead in July next year.

He told a round-table meeting organised by Australian media giant News Corp that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been clear the Tokyo Olympics, originally slated to be held from July 24 to Aug 9, cannot be delayed a second time.

"We can't postpone it again... We've got real problems because we've got athletes having to come from 206 different nations," the Australian said.

"We've got 11,000 athletes coming, 5,000 technical officials and coaches, 20,000 media, we've got 4,000 working on the organising committee there at the moment, there will be 60,000 volunteers coming. There's a lot of people.

"Yesterday, there were 10,000 new cases in Brazil. Very few countries are as advanced in coping with this as (Australia)."

Experts like Dr Anthony Fauci, the top American infectious diseases specialist who is coordinating the United States' response to the Covid-19 crisis, have suggested it would take 12 to 18 months to develop, test and approve a vaccine for public use.

Without a widely available vaccine, there will be enormous challenges in screening tens of thousands of people from all corners of the world on top of implementing safe distancing measures and enhanced health and safety protocols.

It is also a possibility there may never be a vaccine for Covid-19 and even if there is one, it is not a silver bullet as it will take time to push it out to the masses.

"We have to assume that there won't be a vaccine or, if there is a vaccine, it won't be sufficient to share around the world," Coates said. "Do we quarantine the Olympic village? Do all athletes when they get there go into quarantine? Do we restrict having spectators at the venues? Do we separate the athletes from the mixed zone where the media are?"

However, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto denied cancellation was the "common understanding" between the IOC and Games organisers should the hurdles posed by the pandemic prove insurmountable.

Games spokesman Masa Takaya also told Xinhua yesterday the organisers remain committed to hosting the Olympics next year.

"The new dates for the Games are already set, and our mission is to prepare for the best stage for the Games next year," he said.

"Tokyo 2020 and the IOC are in close collaboration, and the IOC is also fully committed to delivering the Games in 2021."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2020, with the headline ''Real problems' beset Tokyo Games in 2021'. Subscribe