The pandemic is placing “real pressure” on preparations for the Tokyo Olympics, the Australian prime minister has said, after a report claimed the Japanese government had privately concluded this summer’s Games will have to be cancelled.
“The situation in Japan, right now, in terms of the spread that’s occurred there more recently, is quite different to even when I was there in November,” Scott Morrison said on Friday.
“I can understand that that’s putting some real pressure” on the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister said, adding that “any prime minister anywhere, has to put, I think, the health and safety of their populations first and what can be managed”.
Morrison – who said he was aware of rumours about the future of the Games, due to open on July 23rd – said cancellation “would be very disappointing for the Japanese people” and for Suga and his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, who oversaw Tokyo’s successful bid for the Games in 2013.
“But if that were the case, I can only feel for them, and their circumstances. I could only extend our thoughts to them at that time.”
Morrison’s comments came in response to a report in the Times claiming that Japanese government officials had resigned themselves to cancelling the Olympics and were instead hoping a wave of sympathy would help Tokyo secure the 2032 Games.
“No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” the Times quoted an unnamed senior member of Japan’s ruling coalition as saying. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
The source added: “Suga is not emotionally invested in the Games. But they want to show that they are ready to go, so that they will get another chance in 11 years. In these circumstances, no one could really object to that.”
In response, the Tokyo 2020 organising committee did not refer to the report, but insisted plans would continue to deliver the Games this summer.
“Prime Minister Suga has expressed his determination to hold the Games; the government is leading a series of coordination meetings for Covid-19 countermeasures and is implementing thorough infection countermeasures in order to be able to hold the Games,” it said in a statement.
“All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo metropolitan government, Tokyo 2020 organising committee, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee are fully focused on hosting the Games this summer.
“We hope that daily life can return to normal as soon as possible, and we will continue to make every effort to prepare for a safe and secure Games.”
Suga, who is struggling to respond to a surge in Covid-19 cases that has strengthened public opposition to Tokyo 2020, said on Friday he remained committed to working with the IOC to holding a “safe and successful” event.
Japan has been hit less severely by the pandemic than many other advanced economies, but a recent surge in cases, centred on Tokyo, and intense pressure on hospitals forced Suga to declare a month-long state of emergency this month.
In addition, about 80 per cent of the Japanese public think the Games should be postponed again or cancelled altogether, according to a recent opinion poll.
On Thursday, the IOC’s chairman, Thomas Bach, dismissed growing speculation about cancellation. “We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo,” Bach told Japan’s Kyodo news agency. “This is why there is no plan B and this is why we are fully committed to make these Games safe and successful.”
Matt Carroll, the chief executive of the Australian Olympic Committee, dismissed the Times report. “The Games are on, and [they] will start on July 23rd,” he said on Friday.
Asked what it would take to prompt a cancellation, Carroll said: “No, as I said, the IOC and the organising committee haven’t just thought, ‘Oh, well, we’ll go on as usual,’ because it’s not as usual. Nothing is as usual with the Covid pandemic.
“They have worked out a whole series of scenarios. And they will vary those scenarios as we head closer to the start of the Games. To address all the issues that need to be done.”
Bach’s optimism was criticised as “ignoring reality” by the leading sports marketer Robert Maes, whose experience after working with 30 national Olympic committees and five global sponsors made him deeply sceptical.
“I believe it is madness to organise Olympics here,” Maes said. “I call myself a good organiser of sports events and I’ve done Formula One events, track and field and football games, but I cannot see how the Olympics can be held in the current climate.”
“In Japan, we have an explosive rise of the virus cases and the seriousness of them and because of the lack of tests the true numbers are surely underreported. A vast majority of the public is saying they don’t want the Olympics. Test events need to be cancelled. Many of the people I speak to are increasingly sceptical. They won’t say that publicly but it’s true.
“There is also total silence here from all the sponsors. No activation, no servicing, because if they come out to be visible in support, they might get a huge backlash if it all goes wrong in July.”
The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee wrote on its Twitter account: “We have not received any information suggesting the Games will not happen as planned, and our focus remains on the health and preparedness of Team USA athletes ahead of the Games this summer.” – Guardian