TOKYO: Japan seems “determined” to host the postponed Olympic Games in 2021 despite the coronavirus pandemic.
“In the summer of next year, Japan is determined to host the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as proof that humanity has defeated the pandemic,” the country’s newly elected Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has told the United Nations General Assembly in his first international address since taking office last week.
“I will continue to spare no effort in order to welcome you to Games that are safe and secure,” added Suga in the video message.
The march of the coronavirus around the globe forced the historic decision to delay the Games earlier this year.
But with continued spikes in infection worldwide, there are ongoing questions about whether the event will be possible next year.
‘This has to happen’
Organisers and Olympic officials have insisted the Games will go on, with International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates saying on Friday “this has to happen”, citing athletes who would be devastated by a cancellation.
But medical experts have warned that the massive international event could be difficult to hold if the pandemic is not under control by next summer.
And enthusiasm for the Games appears to have waned in Japan, with polls over the summer finding just one in four Japanese want to see them happen, and most backing either a further postponement or outright cancellation.
Organisers and officials are discussing a long and complex list of possible coronavirus countermeasures that they hope will make it possible to hold the Games even if a vaccine is not available.
These are expected to include rigorous and repeated testing of athletes, and potentially mandatory vaccinations, if a vaccine is available by then.
The postponement has also created a variety of logistical headaches and extra costs.
Organisers are combing through hundreds of proposed cost-saving measures, including potentially scaling back the traditionally flashy opening and closing ceremonies.
Convincing sponsors to keep their billions of dollars
Surveys have shown that a majority of Japanese companies and the public don’t think the Olympics will, or should, happen next year. A poll published in June by Japanese broadcaster NHK said two-thirds of sponsors were undecided about extending for another year.
Keeping domestic sponsors on board is financially critical and Japanese leaders have been eager to signal the Games’ viability next year.
Recruited by Japanese advertising agency Dentsu Inc., domestic sponsors have paid a record $3.3 billion, at least twice any previous Olympics, to the local organising committee. That’s on top of a dozen permanent Olympic sponsors who have signed long term with the International Olympic Committee. Some also have individual contracts with Tokyo organisers.
Japanese organisers are saying little, however, about how 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, staff and officials will be safe with no vaccine or treatment for the virus yet available.