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Will the Tokyo 2020 Olympics go ahead as Covid cases soar?

Could the 2020/2021 Olympic Games be cancelled – the first time since WWII? (Picture: Getty)

The last time the Summer Olympics were cancelled was in 1944 – and that was because of the Second World War.

However, with Covid-19 still disrupting daily life across the globe, many people are wondering if the 2020 Olympic Games will join this very short list of cancelled Olympics.

Originally meant to take place in Tokyo last summer and rescheduled to July 23-August 8 2021.

As Japan faces a surge in coronavirus cases and the new Indian variant is set to dominate in the UK, will the Tokyo Olympics take place this year?

Will the Tokyo Olympics go ahead?

For now, the IOC (International Olympics Committee) and the organisers of the Tokyo 2020 committee are confident the games will take place as planned.

In a statement, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said last week: ‘Everything is telling us that the Games can go ahead and will go ahead.’

Protests over the Olympics

People have begun to protest hosting the Games as Japan suffers under another wave of infections. (Picture: Getty)

He also added that the IOC expects a ‘large majority’ of the athletes and support staff staying in the Olympic Village will be vaccinated.

However, not everyone shares the same outlook.

On Tuesday, May 18, an association made up of 6,000 medical practitioners in Japan called for the IOC to cancel the games, saying hospitals ‘have their hands full and have almost no spare capacity.’

The Tokyo Medical Practitioners’ Association called for the Olympics to be cancelled in a letter made public on their website.

Writing to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, and Seiko Hashimoto, the head of the organizing committee, the letter writes: ‘We believe the correct choice is to the cancel an event that has the possibility of increasing the numbers of infected people and deaths.’

‘Viruses are spread by people’s movements. Japan will hold a heavy responsibility if the Olympics and Paralympics work to worsen the pandemic, increasing the number of those who must suffer and die.’

Public support has plummeted for hosting the Games (Picture: Getty)

Currently, daily case rates of Covid-19 are reaching around 6,000 in Japan, and Tokyo previously issued a state of emergency keeping strict restrictions that will last through at least the end of May.

Meanwhile, Japan has been slow to roll out vaccines compared to other countries such as the US and UK, with only about 3.5% of the population vaccinated.

Athletes including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Roger Federer have voiced concerns about holding the event, and French cyclist Julian Alaphilippe has said he will skip the games if they do go ahead.

The public support for hosting the games has also waned.

A survey published in The Asahi Shimbun (one of the largest national newspapers in Japan) found that 83% of respondents are against the games happening as scheduled, wanting them either cancelled or postponed.

Dad sets up home Olympics

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However, there are many who are determined for the Olympics to go ahead.

Speaking to CNN Sport last week, World Athletics president Seb Coe said that 70% of those chasing Olympic participation are only going to have one chance to compete at what is likely to be the pinnacle of their sporting careers.

To cancel the Games, Coe said, would be to ‘discard a generation of athletes who have spent over half their young lives in pursuit of this one moment.’

Additionally, there is the financial toll to consider.

According to a Reuters report from January, insurers are facing a £1.4-2 billion loss if the Olympics are canceled, amounting to the largest ever claim in the global event cancellation market.

The financial impact of canceling the Games on the organisers, even with insurance payouts, could be considerable given that close to 75% of the IOC’s total funding comes from broadcasting rights.

For all these reasons and more, Japan and the IOC have some difficult decisions to make.

Man wearing a face mask by the olympic logo statue

Organisers are feeling the pressure to cancel the event as daily case rates of Covid-19 reach around 6,000 in Japan (Picture: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)

Can the Olympics get cancelled?

In the host city contract which outlines the legal agreement between the IOC and Tokyo to hosting the Games, the IOC is entitled to terminate the contract on the grounds that ‘the safety of participants in the Games would be seriously threatened or jeopardized for any reason whatsoever.’

In the history of the modern Olympics, there have been only three instances the Games got cancelled: in 1916, 1940 and 1944 – all three cases due to the two World Wars.


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