The organizing committee for the postponed 2020 Olympics has ruled out holding the event this year without spectators despite growing health fears amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision to postpone the 2020 Games was made in March of last year, but the Japanese government, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have all publicly said the event will take place. this year.
Japan has reported more than 384,000 cases of the coronavirus, including more than 5,500 deaths. A state of emergency in Tokyo and three other provinces was declared this month for the second time after a shocking increase in cases in December last year.
The organizing committee told Al Jazeera in a statement that “we don’t want to see the Games without spectators”.
“Tokyo 2020 is making efforts to accommodate as many spectators as possible, while implementing comprehensive measures to prevent infection … the upper limit for the number of spectators will be in line with the limits in effect in Japan at the time.” , he said in the statement.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday vowed to give “hope and courage” to the world by hosting the Olympic Games despite fears that the event – scheduled for July 23 to August 8, 2021 – will be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic . .
Suga said Japan was “determined to give the world hope and courage” in ensuring the Games take place.
IOC President Thomas Bach told a press conference on Wednesday that “the task of the organization is to prepare for the Olympics, not to cancel them” after being pressed on a report that the government would cancel the event.
“Our task is also to realize the Olympic dreams of the athletes,” said Bach. “We are working day and night to hold the Games safe and will not add fuel to all this speculation.”
The IOC told Al Jazeera in a statement that in addition to the government, “the organizing committee and the Japanese Olympic Committee all fully support the Games.”
“In conversations with the 206 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) last week, they expressed their confidence, enthusiasm and hope for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games this summer,” the statement added.
Although the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee did not respond to Al Jazeera’s question about the possibility of hosting the Olympics safely, it “hoped that everyday life could get back to normal sooner rather than later. possible”.
Tokyo Olympics, fingers crossed for you?❤️ pic.twitter.com/9neW7kSIQU
– Daniele Callegari (@ callega3) January 29, 2021
Earlier this month, a report citing an anonymous government official said it was “too difficult” to hold the event given the rise in cases and new strains of coronavirus across the world.
“No one can predict the health situation of 206 NOCs and this naturally and unfortunately leads to speculation which hurts the athletes in their preparations to overcome the challenges they face,” added Bach of the IOC.
In addition, health experts have issued warning appeals about what holding the Olympics – with or without spectators – during the pandemic could mean for Japan and the world.
Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japanese Medical Association, said: “It is not possible to accept [foreigners]”Given the current state of the pandemic.
Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, said the Olympics should go ahead but without fans.
“I think we should abandon the idea of hosting the event and inviting people from all over the world to Tokyo,” Ozaki said, quoted by The Asahi Shimbun.
“When you think of the athletes, the Games should take place. The fundamental purpose of the Olympic Games is to bring the athletes together in one place for competition. If this is seen as the goal, discussions should start on holding the Games without spectators.
“If the central government is serious about hosting the Olympics, it should come up with a specific roadmap that sets targets for how many new cases to reduce and when.”
Lack of public support
A survey by Kyodo News earlier this month found that around 80% of Japanese people want the Games canceled or postponed.
“In the poll, 35.3% called for the cancellation, while 44.8% said the Games should be postponed again,” Kyodo News said.
Japan plans to launch its general vaccination campaign in May, just two months before the start of the rescheduled Games. The atmosphere in the streets of Tokyo therefore remains pessimistic.
“It’s a no to the Olympics,” 30-year-old Tokyo resident Ayako Seto told Al Jazeera.
“I have heard from the news that the vaccine will not be ready for everyone until the end of this year. I have also heard that taking a vaccine is not mandatory for athletes. I don’t think the pandemic will end until this summer and that the Olympics will not be the ‘victory against the coronavirus’ as Prime Minister Suga has said.
However, Koichi Kobayashi, 66, said: “The Olympics should be held.”
“The Games are not just for a medal, but participation makes more sense,” Kobayashi told Al Jazeera. “The athletes prepared for the Olympics. It should go ahead but without spectators.
Economy to take a hit
A report from the Japan Times said that hosting the Games without spectators would cost Japan 2.4 trillion yen ($ 22.9 billion).
“Holding the Tokyo Games behind closed doors would result in a loss of 381.3 billion yen ($ 3.64 billion) in spending directly related to the games, or 90% of the original projection of events,” the report said, citing estimates by Katsuhiro Miyamoto, Honorary Professor at Kansai University.
“The stimulus effects on household consumption spending will be halved to 280.8 billion yen ($ 2.7 billion) and corporate marketing activities will be softened. Economic gains from promotional sporting and cultural events after the games will also be halved to 851.4 billion yen ($ 8.1 billion). “
‘No plan B’: IOC chief says Tokyo Olympics will be held https://t.co/gwcxE5enuK
– Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 22, 2021
On Thursday, the Reuters news agency reported that Japanese Olympic sponsors were cutting advertising campaigns and delaying marketing events related to the 2020 Olympics.
Canon CFO Toshizo Tanaka reportedly said the company was working under the assumption that the event would go as planned.
“But we are thinking internally how to react in case that cannot happen,” he said.
Yasuhide Yajima, chief economist at the NLI Research Institute in Tokyo, said the Japanese government would have to pay compensation if it canceled the Games.
“This will be the highest cost for the government [if it’s cancelled]”Yajima told Al Jazeera.
“If the coronavirus is under control by then, Japan can achieve the ‘first victory’. He can also show the world how to control the coronavirus. It will also have huge economic benefits. “
But for Taisuke Iwasaki, 27, hosting the Games will add to the woes of the Japanese people and resolving domestic issues should be the government’s top priority.
“Looking at the health and medical situation here, it’s difficult to have the Olympics,” Iwasaki told Al Jazeera.
“Even if we drive in an ambulance, hospitals don’t have space. This is a situation where we need to reduce the number of people on the streets, not invite more from abroad. Once the clusters are created, we cannot send foreigners away right away or let them stay in a hospital that has no room for anyone.
“It can be chaos.”