2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics Reportedly in Doubt Because of COVID-19 Concerns

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2021

People wearing face masks walk and ride past an Olympics decoration installed along a street in Tokyo on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)
Hiro Komae/Associated Press

The Japanese government has "privately concluded" that the 2021 Olympic Games will have to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from Richard Lloyd Parry of The Times

"No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it's too difficult," a source told Lloyd Parry. "Personally, I don't think it's going to happen."

Japan is now reportedly trying to find a "face-saving way of announcing the cancellation that leaves open the possibility of Tokyo playing host at a later date."

The Times @thetimes

The Japanese government has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus, and the focus is now on securing the Games for the city in the next available year, 2032 https://t.co/bsuB9wMt30

The Tokyo Games local organizing committee said in a statement Thursday, however, that preparations for July's event were going forward (h/t 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. 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."

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee also released the following statement Thursday:


(3/3) We have not received any information suggesting the Games will not happen as planned, and our focus remains on the health and preparedness of Team USA athletes ahead of the Games this summer."

Publicly and officially, both the International Olympic Committee and Japanese Olympic organizers have been resolute in the assertion that the Games will happen, per the Associated PressJapanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called holding the 2021 games "proof of human victory against the coronavirus."

But IOC senior member Dick Pound said he "can't be certain" the Games will take place because "the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus." Japanese minister Taro Kono, a member of Suga's cabinet, added that "anything is possible" and attempts to hold the Games "could go either way."

Keith Mills, deputy chair of the organizing committee for the 2012 Olympics in London, told the BBC Tuesday (h/t the AP) that he believes cancellation plans have likely already been concocted. 

"But I think they'll leave it until absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically, in case the vaccinations roll out faster than we all hope," he said. "It's a tough call, I wouldn't like to be in their shoes."

IOC President Thomas Bach looked to quell some of the talk that the Games could be canceled. 

"We have, at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo," he told the Kyodo News (h/t Victor Mather of the New York Times). "There is no Plan B."

He added that Beijing's Winter Olympics in 2022 were still on track to take place as scheduled. 

The Tokyo Games were originally scheduled for the summer of 2020 but postponed due to the coronavirus. With uncertainties regarding the state of the pandemic come July and question marks regarding the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, this year's event remains up in the air. 

If the Summer Olympics are canceled, it would be for the first time since World War II and could cost the IOC over $1 billion in television revenue, per Mather. The IOC is a non-profit organization, but "90 percent of the revenues from the Games go straight back into sport and athlete development."