It would be a major coup in the sports world. The organisers of the Tokyo Olympics, originally scheduled for this summer 2020 and postponed to the summer of 2021, announced on Tuesday that they will cancel the Olympics if the coronavirus pandemic is not brought under control. Never before seen outside of wartime. Only two Olympics had been cancelled: in 1940 in Tokyo already, and in 1944 in London.
It was the president of the Japanese organising committee himself, Yoshiro Mori, who said in an interview with the sports daily Nikkan, explaining that it would be impossible to postpone them again: “If the pandemic is still going on then the Games will have to be cancelled”.
No vaccine, no Olympics?
Asked about the prospect of a further postponement until 2022 if the pandemic was still not under control by the summer of 2021, the president of the organising committee was categorical, rejecting this possibility. Yoshiro Mori had already pointed out last Thursday that “thinking about both the athletes and the problems for the organisation, it is technically difficult to postpone the competition for two years”. While recalling that the Olympics have so far only been cancelled in times of war, Yoshiro Mori compared the fight against Covid-19 to “a battle against an invisible enemy”.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, the president of Japan’s medical association, Yoshitake Yokokura, said the Games would be “excessively difficult” if no vaccine was available at that time. “I’m not saying that they should not take place but it would be excessively difficult,” he said.
The IOC had resolved to postpone the Games for one year.
A view already expressed on 20 March by the infectious disease specialist from the University of Kobe (west), Kentaro Iwata, who at the time called himself a “pessimist”. “Honestly, I don’t think it’s likely that the Olympic Games will take place next year,” he told the press.
After assuring for several weeks that the Tokyo Games would be held on time, Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided at the end of March to postpone the Olympics for a year, under pressure from athletes and sports associations in various countries.
A “pessimistic” infectiologist
If the organizers want to make it a symbol of the world’s resilience to the pandemic, the question of a longer postponement has begun to be raised. Earlier this week, a Japanese infectious disease specialist, critical of the country’s handling of the outbreak, said he was “pessimistic” about holding the Games in 2021.
The postponement of the Games represents a huge logistical challenge for the organisers and is expected to entail significant additional costs, the distribution of which between the Organising Committee and the IOC has not yet been decided.