Tokyo to skip one-year Olympic countdown over Covid-19

Updated Jun 06 2020

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Organisers are seeking to cut costs related to the postponement and are also conscious of pandemic risks.
— AFP/File
Organisers are seeking to cut costs related to the postponement and are also conscious of pandemic risks. — AFP/File

TOKYO: Tokyo will scrap events marking a year to go until the postponed 2020 Olympic Games, organisers said on Friday, citing the ‘current economic situation’ caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The start of the Games have been pushed back until July 23, 2021 because of the disease outbreak, though it remains unclear whether even that delay will be sufficient.

Organisers are seeking to cut costs related to the postponement and are also conscious of pandemic risks.

We cannot hold a lively event while the risk of infection continues,” NHK quoted an unnamed organising committee source as saying.

Last year, the city and organisers held a series of events to mark the one-year countdown, including unveiling the newly designed medals.

But given the global crisis, organisers ruled out a similar celebration.

In view of the current economic situation, Tokyo 2020 will not be holding any events to mark the new one year to go milestone for the Games,” the organisers said. “But we will consider what we can do to show our solidarity with the people.”

The confirmation came after reports in the Japanese media that organisers would scrap the event, fearing it was inappropriate given the global pandemic and the ongoing risk of infection inside Japan.

Kyodo News agency reported that posters and messages of encouragement to athletes might be put up and displayed online instead, adding that the organising committee felt a more’moderate tone’ was appropriate.

A nationwide state of emergency over the virus has been lifted in Japan, but a recent rise in cases in Tokyo has led to fears of a second wave.

The latest reports come after Tokyo’s governor confirmed the city and organisers are looking at ways to scale back next year’s Games.

Japanese media said streamlining plans could involve cutting the number of spectators and reducing participation in the opening and closing ceremonies.

The Yomiuri Shimbun daily quoted an unnamed source as saying that everyone including athletes, officials and spectators would be required to take a test for the virus.

Tokyo 2020 declined to comment on those reports, saying discussions about coronavirus countermeasures would be held’from this autumn onwards’.

The organisers and Tokyo officials face the twin headaches of ensuring the postponed Games can be held safely, given the pandemic, and keeping additional costs to a minimum.

But with the pandemic continuing to rage in much of the world, it remains unclear whether the Games can be held next year.

On Friday, a member of the organising committee’s executive board said a decision on whether the Games could be held or not would need to be taken in spring.

March next year is a time when we face major questions on whether athletes can be selected,” lawmaker Toshiaki Endo, one of six vice-presidents on the board and a former Olympics minister was quoted as saying by Japanese broadcaster NHK on Friday, denying speculation that the IOC intends to make a decision in October. “We have to make a judgment in various ways depending on the situation then.”

Endo was speaking at a meeting of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The Olympics are due to open on July 23, 2021, followed by the Paralympics on August 24.

“If the global coronavirus is not over by [next spring], particularly if the situation does not allow for the selection of athletes, [holding the games] would be quite difficult, Endo was quoted as saying by the Japanese newspaper Sankei.

IOC chief Thomas Bach said last month that 2021 was the’last option’ for holding the Tokyo Games, stressing that postponement cannot go on forever. Bach and fellow IOC member John Coates, who oversees Tokyo preparations, have been hinting for several weeks about myriad problems.

The IOC is to hold an executive board meeting next Wednesday with Tokyo organisers, who are sure to present many suggestions for scaling back.

The IOC will hope to hold the Olympics in some form, making it at least television ready. Almost 75% of IOC income is from selling broadcast rights.

The IOC on Thursday was in talks with insurers over possible compensation for the postponed Olympics. Games operations director Pierre Ducrey said the No 1 problem is securing the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay.

The IOC has said it is setting aside $650 million to cover potential costs, but it has not made clear how much if any will go to Japan.

Estimates in Japan say the postponement will cost $2 billion to $6 billion.

Japanese organisers say they are spending $12.6 billion to run the games, but a national audit says the cost is twice that much. All but $5.6 billion is public money.

Tokyo said the Games would cost $7.3 billion when it won the bid in 2013.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2020