TOKYO: With much of Japan under a state of emergency due to a third wave of COVID-19 infections, organisers of the Tokyo Olympics will mark six months to go on Saturday (Jan 23) with little fanfare, no fireworks and amid rapidly dwindling public support.
Postponed by a year due to the pandemic, there will be no more delays for the 2020 Games, organisers have stressed, despite a recent Kyodo News survey showing 80 per cent of people in Japan want the event either cancelled or rescheduled.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed on Monday to forge ahead with preparations for the Games, though just days earlier a Cabinet minister had said the hosts needed to be ready for any outcome.
On a two-day visit to Tokyo in November, IOC chief Thomas Bach expressed confidence the Olympic and Paralympic Games would go ahead but the public remains deeply concerned about hosting a gathering of 15,000 international athletes amid a sharp rise in infections.
Organisers are expected to make a decision in February or March whether the coronavirus risks have eased enough to let spectators attend the Games, even without a comprehensive global vaccine roll-out.
Senior IOC member Dick Pound is among those who have suggested athletes should be at the front of the queue for vaccines to boost the chances of the Games going ahead, though this provoked a backlash from the public, health experts and athletes themselves.
Bach has said vaccinations would not be mandatory, describing them as just "one tool in the toolbox", and the Japanese government is confident its existing COVID-19 countermeasures would be effective.
"We are considering comprehensive measures to hold a safe and secure Games, even without making vaccines a condition," Japan’s top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said on Tuesday.
GAMES LIKE NO OTHER
If the Games get the green light, athletes arriving in Japan will experience an Olympics like no other.
Organisers have said they will not need to quarantine but there will be stringent health protocols in place and they will be tested regularly.
There will be a limit placed on the number of athletes allowed to attend the opening ceremony at the US$1.44 billion National Stadium and social distancing measures at the Athletes Village will also be enforced.
The presence of media, sponsors and other outside stakeholders will be kept to a minimum at the Games.
In September, Japan’s Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto said the Tokyo Games would be held "at any cost" but the pandemic may take the decision out of organisers hands.
It was in March last year that the Japanese government and IOC took the unprecedented decision to postpone the Games and it seems likely that any move to cancel the event would come before the start of the torch relay on Mar 25.
Such a move would be would not only result in deep national embarrassment and deprive many athletes of their only chance to compete at an Olympics, it could leave Japan with billions of dollars in losses.
On top of the US$12.6 billion already earmarked by Japan for the Games, the additional cost of rearranging the Olympics is expected to come in at US$2.8 billion, most of which is public money.
But World Athletics head Seb Coe, who was the chairman of the 2012 organising committee, is confident in Japan's ability to get the Games on.
"Of all the countries on the planet that really has the fortitude, and resilience and the street-smarts to see this through, it is actually Japan," he told Sky News.
"I wake up as a federation president really grateful that it is Japan that's dealing with this and not some other places that I can think of. So I'm sure we will be there."
The Games will run from Jul 23 to Aug 8.