Are the Tokyo Olympics in danger of being canceled?

Things aren’t ideal in Japan, but organizers are forging on anyway

Seiko Hashimoto, President of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic games holds a Tokyo 2020 folder during the Tokyo 2020 Executive Board Meeting on April 26. (Photo by Nicolas Datiche - Pool)
Seiko Hashimoto, President of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic games holds a Tokyo 2020 folder during the Tokyo 2020 Executive Board Meeting on April 26. (Photo by Nicolas Datiche - Pool) (Getty Images)

Rising COVID-19 cases, little vaccination distribution and increased opposition to even have the event -- it’s not a good combination for Tokyo right now, as it tries to pull off hosting an already-delayed Summer Olympics that’s less than three months from its scheduled start date.

But while it’s not the host city’s fault, and organizers are doing their best to put on the Games in the safest way possible, Japanese Olympic officials are still having to navigate through some serious issues right now. Let’s dive in.


What is the COVID situation right now in Japan?

It’s not ideal, as another wave of cases (4,698 new cases as of April 24) forced Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo and three other prefectures.

Bars, department stores and theaters across the country will be closed through May 11.

What is the vaccine situation?

This also isn’t good. As of April 21, Japan had administered just more than 2 million vaccines to its citizens, according to Forbes.

That represents a vaccine dose for just 1% of the population. Japan has only approved the Pfizer vaccine so far.

Even worse, the total isn’t expected to get a whole lot better by the time the Games are supposed to begin on July 23.

So, what about the Olympics?

On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese organizers unveiled the latest version of a “playbook” they’ll use to conduct the Games as safely as possible, essentially saying they are still moving forward, despite the state of emergency.

Aspects of the playbook, which also had a first version come out in February, include the following, according to ESPN:

  • Athletes and coaches will undergo daily testing.
  • Spectators from overseas are banned at the moment.
  • Singing and chanting during events has been banned.
  • Participants will have to wear masks at all times, except when sleeping, eating or hanging outdoors.

It’s still to be determined how many domestic fans will be allowed at venues. That decision has been pushed back until June for now, as organizers seem to be buying as much time as possible before coming to a consensus.

Is the public enthusiastic about hosting the Games?

Not at all, it seems.

According to a poll taken in March, 58% of respondents did not support still hosting the Games in the midst of the pandemic, even with having to delay the event a year already. Only 30% of respondents were “very interested” in holding the Games.

There are concerns from the public about hosting thousands of athletes, coaches, officials and media members, even though there will be required testing in place.

The British Medical Journal published an editorial earlier in the month imploring the Games not to be held because they are not “safe nor secure.”

In addition, a report has come out where Japanese towns that had planned on hosting teams and athletes at residences or other facilities have pulled out of doing so.

For example, the northern prefecture of Miyagi had plans to host South Africa’s field hockey team and allow it to have a training camp where team members would mingle with local residents, but has decided not to go through with it because of the expense virus protocols would bring.

Bottom line, will the Games still go on?

Yes. Despite the public opposition and obstacles, the IOC is determined to forge on -- for now.

When the Games were postponed last year, it was said if they can’t be held in 2021, they will be canceled altogether. There’s no way the IOC is going to miss out on the billions in TV/broadcast rights money the Games bring.

Likewise, the Japanese government has already spent billions of dollars in public money to secure the Games and build venues, and despite likely lost ticket revenue due to capacity restrictions, wants to recoup at least some of that investment.

It’s also at the point of no return with the athletes, who are in full-training mode now and about to have qualification events in the next few weeks to earn Olympic spots.


About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.