The delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics are now only 7 months away and due to open on 23 July despite much of Japan is in a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic and public opinion turning against holding the Games at all.
They're pushing the Games forward without really understanding the critical situation our health care system is in. They're not beating the virus, and they are not ready for the Olympics. Dr Jin Kuramochi
Organisers, however, insist that there is no question of cancelling the Games, which are just 154 days away.
Efforts to stop a surge in COVID-19 cases, while vaccinations have yet to be started, add to the concerns.
NPR’s Anthony Kuhn, representing the Games’ organisers, said: “By international standards, Japan’s case numbers are not high, and the state of emergency is not draconian. Residents are just politely requested to avoid unnecessary outings.”
As experts warn that the month-long emergency may need to be extended if it doesn’t flatten the curve, and some hospitals have run out of beds, Dr Jin Kuramochi, who runs a clinic outside Tokyo, accused Japan’s government of putting politics and economics before people’s health.
“They’re pushing the Games forward without really understanding the critical situation our health care system is in,” Dr Kuramochi said. “They’re not beating the virus, and they are not ready for the Olympics.”
Vaccinations will not start in Japan until February at earliest, and it is not clear yet if anyone involved in the Olympics will be required or able to get vaccinated.
Postponing the Olympics, meanwhile, has caused the cost of holding the Games to jump by 22% to around $15.5 billion to become, by some estimates, the priciest Games on record.
Economic journalist Tomoyuki Isoyama says the government is counting not only on recouping some of the money they have sunk into roads and stadiums, but also on boosting the overall economy.
“The government is trying to make tourism an economic pillar of the nation,” Isoyama said. “And the Olympics was supposed to be a driving force behind it, but now this is impossible.”
A recent poll by national broadcaster NHK found that roughly 80% of Japanese think the Games should be cancelled or postponed.
Some predict that Japan will have to cancel the Games before 25 March, when the Olympic torch relay is scheduled to begin.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, however, argues that holding the Tokyo Olympics will send the message that mankind has triumphed over the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Tokyo 2020 has said it is reconsidering the number of athletes present at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies amid speculation that only around 6,000 of the 11,000 participants will be permitted to attend.
Organisers have consistently said the Ceremonies at the Games, postponed to this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are set to be ‘simpler and more restrained’.
“In order to ensure the safety and security of the athletes and simplify operations at the Tokyo 2020 Games, we believe it is necessary to reconsider the number of participants at the Opening and Closing ceremonies and how they will enter the stadium,” Tokyo 2020 told Agence France-Presse.
Last month, organisers also confirmed Hiroshi Sasaki as the Executive Creative Director for the ‘simpler’ Opening and Closing Ceremonies, who claims these will express ‘some sort of breakthrough or hope for the future’ and be an opportunity to change the ‘inflated image of Olympic Ceremonies as being flamboyant stage shows’.
Organisers last month confirmed that the number of officials attending the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be limited to 6 as part of coronavirus counter-measures, which are set to be in place at the Games.
These measures include athletes arriving in the Tokyo 2020 Athletes’ Village no earlier than 5 days prior to their competition, and departing a maximum of 2 days afterwards.
Guidance sent to National Olympic Committees includes advice that in cases where travel time to Japan and time difference is minimal, the number of days spent in the Olympic Village prior to the competition should be shorter.
Where possible, athletes are expected to acclimatise to the time differences in pre-Games training camps in Japan rather than in the Olympic Village.