The prospect of postponing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games looms larger than ever after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that delaying the event may be the only option to avoid exacerbating the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
His remarks came a day after the International Olympic Committee announced it would decide the fate of the games in four weeks after further discussion with organizers.
The prime minister, who had previously said he hopes to hold the 2020 Games in “complete form,” acknowledged during a parliamentary session for the first time that doing so may be impossible.
“When it comes to hosting the 2020 Games, I don’t believe the world is in any condition to do so at this time,” Abe said during a parliamentary session Monday.
The executive board of the IOC announced Sunday that it would decide in four weeks whether it will postpone, cancel or host the games as planned.
Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee, said during a news conference Monday that the torch relay slated to begin Thursday will be carried out as planned. Organizers were criticized after about 50,000 went to see the Olympic torch on Saturday while it was on display at a train station in Sendai. Mori said the Grand Start ceremony on Thursday will be held, and that he will attend the event himself.
Seiko Hashimoto, the Cabinet minister in charge of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, said she was reassured the IOC ruled out cancellation of the Tokyo 2020 Games.
The prime minister also announced Monday that Japan will ask travelers from the United States to quarantine themselves in their homes or hotel rooms and avoid public transportation for 14 days to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading further. The measure will take effect Thursday and continue through the end of April.
Similar steps have been taken for travelers from China, South Korea, Iran, Egypt and most of Europe. Japan’s Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both urged their citizens to avoid nonessential travel between the two nations.
Worldwide, as of Sunday, more than 300,000 people have been infected and nearly 13,000 have lost their lives due to the novel coronavirus.
Japan, which had seen 1,084 cases of infection and 41 deaths as of Sunday, seems to be experiencing a respite from the crisis but questions have been raised whether a second outbreak is on the horizon. Experts point out that, even if the epidemic has run its course in Japan, it could be reignited when people from countries around the world travel to Japan come July for the opening ceremony and other Olympic sports events.
A delay of a year or more to the 2020 Games — which were thought to be a chance for the economy to get back on its feet — would cost Japan more than ¥3 trillion, according to a report released last week by Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
Kansai University professor emeritus Katsuhiro Miyamoto estimates that a one-year postponement of the Tokyo Games would cost Japan up to ¥640.8 billion, while cancelling them altogether would cost more than ¥4.5 trillion.
While estimates vary, it’s clear that Japan — as well as countless organizing bodies, sponsors, athletes and stakeholders — would suffer great losses if the 2020 Games are rescheduled.
But a growing number of voices are calling upon organizers to prioritize containment of the outbreak, and consider rescheduling to avoid exacerbating the crisis.
Calls for the games to be cancelled have emerged from athletes, organizers and politicians around the world. While some have proposed the games be dispersed to different venues, relocated entirely or held behind closed doors with no spectators, most experts agree that postponement is the best option.
Canada said Monday that it won’t send its athletes to the Tokyo 2020 Games unless they’re postponed and the coronavirus has been contained. The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees called on the IOC and other organizers to postpone the event by a year.
The Australian Olympic Committee has told its athletes to prepare for the games to be held in the summer of 2021.
On Friday, the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee submitted a request to IOC President Thomas Bach that the Summer Games be postponed until the pandemic is under control. On the same day, USA Swimming called on the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee to advocate for postponement, while the swimming federation of France followed suit the next day.
Public support seems to be suffering as well, with nearly 70 percent of Japanese saying they don’t expect the 2020 Games to be held this summer in a Kyodo News survey released last week.