Japan PM says Olympics will go on despite surge in coronavirus

London newspaper claims government has privately concluded the Games will have to be cancelled, but organisers and IOC insist July 23 opening ceremony is on schedule

Japan PM says Olympics will go on despite surge in coronavirus
A banner for the delayed 2020 Olympic Games is displayed at New Chitose Airport in Chitose, northern Japan. Reports indicate that Japan might be forced to cancel the huge event. File photo by Reuters

(ATF) The future of the already-delayed Tokyo Olympics - scheduled to begin in July - remains mired in doubt as conflicting reports roiled organisers of the world's largest sports event amid a surging coronavirus pandemic.

The Times, the London newspaper, reported on January 22 that Japan's government has privately concluded the Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, citing an unnamed senior member of the ruling coalition.

"There is agreement that the Games, already postponed a year, are doomed," The Times article said. "The aim now is to find a face-saving way of announcing the cancellation that leaves open the possibility of Tokyo playing host at a later date," it added.

“No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” The Times quoted the source, suspected by Japanese media to be a member of the junior coalition Komeito party, as saying. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen."

But Japan's prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, said on January 22 he was determined that the Games would go on. He said in parliament that he would work closely with Tokyo and the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC also denied a cancellation was imminent. "We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on July 23 in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo," IOC president Thomas Bach told Japan's Kyodo news agency.

MOUNTING UNCERTAINTY

His comment comes amid growing doubts over the holding of the Games in Tokyo. Dick Pound, the IOC's longest-serving member, said on January 8 that he was not "certain" that the Tokyo Games would take place because of the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

He backtracked on those comments on January 21, agreeing that the postponed Games would be held in the summer.

In an interview with Kyodo, Pound said the Olympics could go ahead without fans in attendance. "The question is, is this a 'must-have' or 'nice-to-have.' It's nice to have spectators. But it's not a must-have," Pound told the Japanese news agency.

Japanese organisers said they are pressing ahead with plans to hold the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo this summer.

Games chief delivery officer Hidemasa Nakamura told the state-run NHK network on January 21 that "there is no change of plan" on the event. "We will provide a safe secure operation."

The Japanese government has spent $3.76 billion since the beginning of the 2013 fiscal year, when Tokyo was selected as the host city, until this fiscal year. The figure includes $781 million for anti-infection measures after the games were postponed for a year because of the pandemic.

With reporting by Reuters

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