Are even the 2021 Olympic Games possible?
In this March 24 file photo, people take pictures with the Olympic Flame during a ceremony in Fukushima City, Japan. The Olympic flame has been removed from public display in Japan, and it's not clear when it will reappear again or where. Jae C. Hong | AP

“I don’t think anyone would be able to say if it’s going to be possible to get it (COVID-19) under control by July or not.”

And with a single sentence, Tokyo Olympic organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto has cast severe doubt over where the already rescheduled 2020 summer Olympic Games would be able to move forward as scheduled in 2021.

Speaking through a translator during a virtual press conference, he continued: “We’re certainly are not in a position to give you a clear answer.”

The Tokyo Olympics were postponed last month due to the coronavirus pandemic with new dates set for July 23, 2020, followed by the Paralympic Games Aug. 24, 2021.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a month-long state of emergency earlier this week to combat the virus, placing the country under restrictions as the total number coronavirus cases in Japan went up to over 5,300 Thursday.

Under the state of emergency, local governors have the stronger legal authority to enforce stay at home orders and to close non-essential businesses.

“We are not at a stage where rapid nationwide spread is being observed, but some areas are under pressure, so we don’t have the luxury of time,” Said Abe, Thursday. “To relieve that pressure there will have to be a transformation in people’s behavior, preventing an explosion in cases, saving people in serious conditions and protecting you and your loved ones depends on how we change our behavior.”

Abe has been heavily criticized for his delayed response in addressing the coronavirus, and local opposition leaders have hinted he downplayed the severity of the virus to hold the Olympics this year.

The added cost of postponing the Olympics, estimated between $2 billion-$6 billion, is a hefty price tag, and will only add to the economic distress Japan now faces—a dire outlook for a country hit hard by the global financial crisis of 2008.

“We have decided to postpone the games by one year,” said Muto. “So, this means that all we can do is work hard to prepare for the games. We sincerely hope that come next year mankind will manage to overcome the coronavirus crisis.”

When asked about alternative plans to 2021, Muto said he would rather think about what treatments, medicines, and vaccines the world could develop jointly, than alternative Olympic Games plans.

Japan has reported about 5,000 cases and 100 deaths. The country is also home to the world’s oldest population—a high-risk group for contracting COVID-19.

For now, there are several outstanding questions regarding whether or not insurance policies will cover the postponement, and more importantly, whether workers will receive back pay and benefits during this time of crisis.

Previously, it was reported that the Olympic Games’ workers faced unsafe working conditions, and wage theft.

With the Olympic flame taken off public display, there are suggestions the International Olympic Committee is considering taking the flame back and putting on a world tour, a light in the darkness, a symbol of the battle against this health pandemic.

“Obviously in the future, there is a possibility it (the torch) might be put on display somewhere. However, for now, it is under the management of Tokyo 2020 and I’m not going to make any further comment on the issue,” said Muto when asked about the torch.

A beautiful thought, and gesture, only possible when travel restrictions are lifted.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.