The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on every facet of life in 2020, and somewhere down the list of important things that were put aside due to the public health crisis was the 2020 Tokyo Olympics being postponed a calendar year to 2021, in the hopes that the virus would be under control and the global sporting event could take place in its normal form.
However, as the first month of 2021 nears its close, it is clear that the hopes of the pandemic being fully behind us by this coming July is not going to happen, as vaccine rollout continues to be a somewhat slow practice and new mutations of the virus are capable of being spread at a vastly greater rate than the already highly contagious virus. As such, with just six months until the planned opening ceremonies, there is discussion being had regarding whether the 2020 (now 2021) Tokyo Games will be able to take place.
According to The Times, the Japanese government has reached a consensus that there is no way for them to put on the Games as planned and they will need to cancel. The main holdup on an announcement, per the report, is that Japan is hoping to keep a future Olympics in Tokyo, aiming for 2032, and is working on the right way to cancel the Games to keep in the IOC’s good graces enough to land the future event.
According to a senior member of the ruling coalition, there is agreement that the Games, already postponed a year, are doomed. 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. “No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” the source said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
It isn’t a major surprise, as IOC member Dick Pound referenced this possibility of a cancellation a couple weeks back, and more recently said fans are not a “must-have” for the Games to go on. That the Olympics would consider taking place in fan-less venues indicated a scramble and it seems Japan would simply rather not host if there isn’t going to be any tourism money — the only justification for a country hosting the Olympics — coming in on top of the issue of public health and safety.
It’s possible that they salvage this year’s Olympics in a fan-less environment with some sort of bubble setup for the thousands of athletes, but it seems as of now that is unlikely to happen. From an American sports perspective, beyond the loss of watching the Olympics, that is of particular interest to the NBA, as they set up their schedule for this season with a major focus on being done before the Olympics began, and as postponements pile up, should the Olympics indeed be cancelled, one has to wonder if they shift their planned dates back to accommodate schedule changes to the second half of the season to allow it to stretch a bit later.
UPDATE: The IOC released a statement pushing back on the report from The Times by saying they are still focused on hosting the games in July, via ESPN.
“All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the IOC and the IPC [International Paralympic Committee] are fully focused on hosting the games this summer,” the statement said.
“We hope that daily life can return to normal as soon as possible, and we will continue to make every effort to prepare for a safe and secure games.”
This of course doesn’t mean a cancellation cannot still happen but it seems they are remaining hopeful they can hold the games as planned or in a fan-less situation.