SG News (Straits Times)

Tokyo postponement time-frame planned

By March 27, 2020 No Comments
A banner for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, on March 11, 2020.

A banner for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, on March 11, 2020.

TOKYO • Tokyo Olympic organisers have started drafting possible alternatives to holding the Games this summer, two sources familiar with the talks said – in contrast to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government’s public stance that postponement is not an option.

While the global coronavirus pandemic has brought all major sporting tournaments to a standstill, those in charge have been adamant that the quadrennial multi-sport event will commence on July 24.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has staked his legacy as his country’s longest-serving premier on the Games and is hoping for a boom in tourism and consumer spending.

Also at risk is more than US$3 billion (S$4.35 billion) in domestic sponsorship – an Olympic record – and some US$12 billion spent on preparations, but the alarming spread of Covid-19 means contingency plans must be considered.

“Finally, we have been asked to make a simulation in case of a postponement,” said one of the sources, an official close to the Tokyo 2020 organising committee that is involved in drafting the scenarios.

Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

“We are making alternative plans – Plan B, C, D – and looking at different postponement time-frames,” added the official, with scenarios including cost estimates for different delays.

The options include scaling back the Games or holding them without fans and will be debated by the organising committee at the end of this month.

The second source, who is also close to the organising committee, confirmed postponement was being discussed, including delays of one or two years, although some staff were holding out hope for a delay of a month or 45 days.

A final decision on postponement will have to come from the IOC, but Japan’s stance also matters. The country last hosted the Summer Games in 1964.

The IOC president, Thomas Bach, has drawn fire from athletes unable to train properly due to lockdown measures their countries have imposed to deal with the outbreak.

Two other insiders, both senior members of the organising committee, echoed those concerns.

One of them, a board member, said the decision to postpone should be made quickly, adding: “The more they push the decision away… more and more preparations have to be made, this will cause cancellation fees to go through the roof.”

Another official involved in drafting scenarios said a long delay could spark complaints from older athletes and require keeping sponsors on board for longer.

While a delay would assuage the health concerns raised by athletes, it also opens up a can of worms, such as the Olympic Village, which is due to be converted to flats after the Games end on Aug 9.

Japanese sponsors, including Toyota and Panasonic, are also said to be nervous.

“Of course companies are individually discussing what to do,” said a representative of one of the more than 60 sponsors. “No one wants to be the first to say anything about the possibility of a postponement.”

The growing chorus calling for the Games to be pushed back gathered further steam yesterday, with the Serbian, Croatian and South African Olympic Committees, as well as several high-profile Indian athletes all on the same page.

Four-time tennis doubles Grand Slam champion Mahesh Bhupathi felt it was the right thing to do given the Covid-19 crisis. He said: “Olympics is all about having the best of the best competing for the highest prize in sport and in today’s scenario, where the world is locked down and the training facilities are all shut, that cannot be a reality.

“So in my opinion, pushing it to next summer is the only solution. It’s not ideal for all parties, but it’s probably the only logical solution in the current scenario.”

Bach has remained firm in his determination to press ahead with the Games, telling German broadcaster SWR on Saturday night “the Olympics cannot be moved like a football game next Saturday” and the IOC had a “clear decision-making foundation”. He added: “A cancellation would destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes of 206 Olympic committees.”

A decision, however, may be imminent. Japanese daily The Nikkei said yesterday the IOC’s executive board will likely hold a meeting within a week to discuss whether to proceed with the Games. Akira Amari, tax chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, also told Fuji TV various possibilities were being explored, including a delay.