(Tokyo) When they took the historic decision in March 2020 to postpone the Tokyo Olympics for one year, the organizers assured that they would open in July 2021 as a sign of humanity’s triumph over the coronavirus , but six months from the deadline, this hoped-for victory still seems uncertain.
The path to the second summer Olympics in history organized in Tokyo, after those of 1964, has never been easy: accusations of bribes, inflation of the costs of the new Olympic stadium or related concerns. the often scorching summer temperatures in the Japanese capital.
These adventures were nothing compared to the real wall that the organizers have encountered since the beginning of 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic which led to the postponement of the event, a first in peacetime.
And with the current global upsurge of the coronavirus, including in Japan, the holding of the Games, rescheduled from July 23 to August 8, 2021, is far from certain.
Officially, the organizers continue to say loud and clear that they will be able to stand this summer, even if the virus is not under control by then.
Thursday, the President of the IOC was firm: “We have at this moment no reason to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on July 23 in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo”, said Thomas Bach in an interview with the Japanese agency Kyodo.
“This is why there is no plan B and this is why we are totally committed to making these Games (Games) safe and successful,” he said.
Bach, however, hinted that the number of spectators could be reduced, saying the IOC must be “flexible” and ready to make “sacrifices” to protect people’s lives.
“The holding of the Games is our inflexible course and, at this stage, we are not discussing anything else,” the managing director of the organizing committee Toshiro Muto told AFP this week.
“Anything can happen,” however, slipped last week Taro Kono, a key Japanese minister, adding that the organizers should “think about back-up plans” just in case.
Postponement to 2024?
The hearts of the Japanese are no longer there: a recent poll showed that 80% were opposed to the holding of the Olympics this year, 35% being in favor of their cancellation and 45% of a further postponement.
Former athletes are also skeptical, such as the Briton Matthew Pinsent, quadruple Olympic rowing champion, who recently considered “grotesque” to organize the Olympics this year.
He even proposed to postpone the Tokyo meeting to 2024 and consequently postpone the Paris Olympics to 2028.
Preparations for the Australian Open tennis tournament (February 8-21) may foreshadow what awaits the organizers of the Olympics this summer, with several infected players and dozens of others forced to confine themselves after cases of coronavirus detected on board their flights.
A state of emergency has been reinstated in Tokyo and ten other Japanese departments and the Olympic organizing committee has put in place measures supposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the Games, even without a vaccine, such as regular tests for athletes, limited travel to Olympic venues and silent spectators to avoid postilions.
If crucial questions have not yet been decided, such as the presence or not of spectators coming from abroad, it is already certain: the Tokyo Games will be the most expensive summer Olympics in history.
The additional cost caused by the postponement and the implementation of a health protocol in the face of the coronavirus has been estimated at nearly 300 billion yen (3.7 billion Canadian dollars), bringing the total official budget of the Tokyo Olympics to 1644 billion yen (20 billion Canadian dollars).
And this amount does not include other heavy investments by the Japanese state related to the event between 2013 and 2018.
The hope of vaccines
A cancellation would be a blow to the Olympic movement as well as to the national pride of Japan. Tokyo had already been deprived of the 1940 Olympics, reassigned to Helsinki and then quickly canceled due to the outbreak of World War II.
Japanese officials hope popular support for the Games will improve in the coming months, especially with the arrival of coronavirus vaccines.
A first vaccine should be authorized by the end of February in Japan, in order to first inoculate those at risk.
Vaccination should not be compulsory for athletes and the public in Tokyo.
But the subject is potentially controversial: should athletes be considered a priority for vaccination? This could be necessary to ensure the safety of the Tokyo Olympics, recently estimated Dick Pound, a senior IOC official.