Top government officials and organizers insisted once again Friday that the Tokyo Games will open in July, despite media reports the global sporting event will soon be canceled or further postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated that the delayed Tokyo Games would not be canceled or postponed, denying claims made in a report by The Times of London that the central government had already decided to cancel the event.
“I am determined to host the games safely and securely in July, in close cooperation with organizations both domestic and abroad,” Suga said during an Upper House session Friday.
The report had said officials were working out how to make the announcement gracefully, and without excluding the possibility of hosting the event in 2032 after the Paris Games in 2024 and the Los Angeles Games in 2028. The Times alleged the government had reached a consensus on the matter, though it cited only one source, a member of the ruling coalition who spoke anonymously and from a personal perspective.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai also denied the report, explaining that no such decision had been made nor was the government aiming to postpone the Tokyo Games until 2032.
“There is no truth in it,” Sakai said during a news conference Friday. “Of course, we must take into account the situation abroad and decide whether to move forward with the event, but until then the central government will do what needs to be done.”
It was a similar cacophony of conflicting media reports and public statements that led up to the announcement in March 2020 that the games would be postponed for one year. Top officials and organizers had aggressively denied any reports, claims, rumors or speculation that the games would be postponed or canceled until almost the day before the announcement. Critics and observers are wary of a repeat.
Still, organizers are adamant that the sporting event will go ahead as planned.
Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee, told the Nishinippon Shimbun on Thursday that organizers were likely to go ahead with the games if the Olympic torch relay, slated to start on March 25, is held as planned.
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, told Kyodo News on Thursday there was “no plan B” and that, at this moment, “there is 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.”
The day before, Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the IOC, told Kyodo News he was confident the games would happen in July but not necessarily with spectators.
“The question is, is this a ‘must have’ or ‘nice to have,’” Pound told Kyodo. “Nobody can guarantee (that the games will be held as planned) … But I think there’s a very, very good chance that they can, and that they will.”
With the pandemic in Japan and around the world worsening by the day, however, it’s becoming harder to believe the nation will be able to host an event involving hundreds of thousands of athletes, coaches, staff, volunteers, media personnel and, hopefully, spectators.
Entry restrictions for athletes looking to compete in the Tokyo Games had been eased in November, but were tightened again earlier this month after the central government declared a state of emergency in parts of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.
Within days the declaration was then extended to seven more, making the order effective in 11 prefectures. The declaration is set to be lifted on Feb. 7 pending an assessment of the ongoing outbreak.
On Friday, opposition party leaders grilled the prime minister and the ruling coalition over the growing costs and risks of hosting the global quadrennial sporting event during what many fear will be an ongoing global pandemic.
Kazuo Shii, leader of the Japanese Communist Party, urged Suga Thursday during a Lower House plenary session to cancel the games and focus on fighting back the virus.
Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said he hoped the games would go on but warned that, “as long as the novel coronavirus spreads, it is irresponsible to move forward based on wishful thinking.”
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