Tokyo Report | Society | East Asia

Tokyo Olympic Games Will Go Ahead in 2021

The International Olympic Committee has ruled out postponing the Tokyo Games for a second time.

Thisanka Siripala
Tokyo Olympic Games Will Go Ahead in 2021
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Tokyo-Good

The Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have committed to holding the Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games next summer, with a review of coronavirus countermeasures to be released at the end of this year. The announcement comes after growing uncertainty whether the Tokyo Olympics would be cancelled altogether, leaving sponsors, tourism and hospitality businesses in limbo. The postponed games face the challenges of balancing athlete and public safety, as well as keeping costs down to offset the losses incurred by postponing the games for a year. 

Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide and Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko met to formally agree to move forward with hosting the global event. Koike told reporters that the Tokyo municipal government will cooperate with the central government as a contribution to national interest, stating that she hoped to gain an understanding from locals on the event’s coronavirus precautions. 

The IOC has ruled out postponing the games for a second time and a government-led task force is currently planning how the global event can be staged safely, with suggestions that it will put on a simplified version of the event. Specific details around different scenarios are being finalized, such as adjusting immigration protocols in the event that Japan’s border remains closed to tourists. 

The government is also considering allowing athletes to enter Japan without a 14-day self-quarantine period, in favor of testing at point of entry in Japan and at stadium locations, as well the requirement for a negative test result three days prior to departure. The Japanese government is also mulling a “pledge” signed by athletes promising to limit their activities to the stadium and Olympic Village. The pledge consists of a prearranged itinerary outlining destinations and modes of transport. Failure to abide by the rules may end in eviction from the Village. 

Traditionally, the Olympic Village has served as a central hub for athletes, team staff and official representatives to gather, offering shared facilities such as cafeterias and medical centers. With more than 11,000 athletes from 206 countries, the Olympic Village will be a base for some 30,000 people with 18,000 beds allocated for members of each nation’s national Olympic committee. Preventing an outbreak of coronavirus clusters in the Olympic Village is therefore a major issue, and organizers are weighing a proposal to house athletes in hotels to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between athletes. 

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Olympic organizers have expressed concerns over a slip in coronavirus precautions between pre-competition and post-competition athletes in the Olympic Village. Some athletes may choose to remain in Japan after their participation has ended, opting to stay at a hotel or return to their country’s pre-games training camp until the closing ceremony.

The IOC and Tokyo Olympics organizing committee have agreed to reduce costs for 52 specific items but the expected saving of $95 million to $105 million is a fraction of the approximately $15.84 billion overall tournament price tag, which doesn’t include the several hundred billion yen cost by the event’s delay. According to a University of Oxford study, this looms as the most expensive Olympic Games in history. In an effort to cut costs, the typical red carpet treatment for IOC executives has been scaled back, alongside a reduction of IOC representatives from each country, the cancellation of separate welcoming ceremonies for each team, and the scaling back of free souvenirs and excessive Olympic Village decorations. 

Earlier this month, IOC Vice President John Coates said the games would take place with or without COVID-19. IOC President Thomas Bach expressed confidence in hosting the games with restrictions in place, pointing to the success of the coronavirus countermeasures at the Tour de France and U.S. Open. The international tennis tournament hosted 350 players from 40 countries and performed 6,500 Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests throughout the competition, based on a three-tier separation system which kept players, coaches, managers and families in a bubble, with a negative PCR test required for other tier members to enter. Last week, Bach emphasized the importance of reviving sports, not just for athletes but also for the general public.

The opening ceremony is due to take place on July 23, 2021, in line with the original timetable and route for the Olympic torch relay. Hosting the games next year will be symbolic, given that it will mark the 10th anniversary since the devastating March 2011 east Japan earthquake and tsunami that took the lives of more than 16,000 people, forcing over 50,000 to evacuate their homes.