Barely a day goes by without renewed speculation over whether the delayed Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will take place this summer despite the global spike in coronavirus cases.
In the UK, former London 2012 head Sir Keith Mills has declared it “unlikely”, but British Olympic Association chef de mission Mark England and its chairman Sir Hugh Robertson both robustly maintain it is proceeding as planned.
Here, the PA news agency sifts through the latest developments to establish the likelihood of the Games taking place this summer – and if so, in what form.
Surely the Games can’t go ahead?
On the contrary, senior figures within the IOC, the IPC and the respective Tokyo organising committee have seldom seemed more bullish. They are refusing to countenance any significant alteration to its size and schedule, let alone any notion of cancellation or a second postponement: which, with the one-year delay having already added £2.1billion to its bill, and swathes of athlete accommodation already repurposed for future private housing, is seen as inconceivable.
Why the surge in speculation?
Tokyo and three of its surrounding prefectures were plunged into a state of emergency earlier this month. However, it is important to note that this pales in comparison with the current European lockdowns, with schools staying open and bars and restaurants also operable until 8pm. Japan’s coronavirus rate, though rising, remains mild according to most comparisons, with total deaths still hovering below 5,000. In another blow for the Games, recent polling suggested a majority of the Japanese public favours cancellation or further postponement.
What measures could be put in place?
Staging the Games without spectators is a possibility, although it is not yet one being actively countenanced by either IOC boss Thomas Bach or Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshiro Muto. Current rules in Japan allow crowds of 5,000 or 50 per cent of capacity, and the country’s baseball stadiums have frequently been near-full in recent months. Rigorous testing and contact-tracing have formed the backbone of the Japanese response to the virus. Other possibilities being broached for the staging of a safe Games have included keeping athletes in strict ‘bubbles’ between accommodation and venues, limiting the number of athletes in Tokyo at any one time, and requiring all visitors to undertake a two-week period of mandatory quarantine upon arrival.
Will vaccinations enable the Games to go ahead?
Japan is yet to begin vaccinating its citizens, although it hopes a majority of adults will have received a jab by July, and says vaccinations will not be compulsory for Games visitors. Olympic officials have distanced themselves from suggestions by IOC executive committee member Dick Pound that athletes might jump the queue in order for the Games to proceed. A mandatory scheme would face the problem of favouring those nations with established vaccine programmes over others which are unable to access such facilities and programmes.
What do the athletes think?
An increasing number of athletes are going public with their concerns and calling for clarity from the IOC over if and how the Games will take place. Four-time Olympic rowing champion Sir Matthew Pinsent called last week for the Tokyo Games to be moved back to take the 2024 place in the calendar – an idea which has been dismissed out of hand by officials. With international competition all but ground to a halt, and access to training facilities greatly restricted, there are fears many athletes will not be in top shape for their prospective events. The IOC and Tokyo will argue that they have been as clear as current conditions allow. It is almost inconceivable, even in a worst-case scenario, that any delay or postponement would be announced before the end of March. For all the challenges, it remains, as much as possible, business as usual.