Tokyo Olympics could be canceled if COVID-19 persists next summer, organizing leader says

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics may never happen even after they were rescheduled for July 2021 due to the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

The president of the organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, and the president of the Japan Medical Association, Yoshitake Yokokura, both said Tuesday the games would hinge on the development of a vaccine and keeping the disease under control, per the Associated Press. And if there isn’t one by next summer, it would be likely the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would then be outright canceled.

Tokyo Olympics in doubt?

After pushback from athletes and countries’ governing bodies, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on March 24 the games would be postponed. The new start date is July 23, 2021.

There is growing concern that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics might not be held at all. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

But if it can’t be held due to the persistent threat of the virus, then there would be no more delays, former prime minister Mori told the Associated Press.

“No, in that situation, it will be canceled,” he said. “In the past, when there were such problems, like wartime, it has been canceled. This time, we are fighting an invisible enemy.”

Mori added: “This is a gamble for mankind. If the world triumphs over the virus and we can hold the Olympics, then our games will be so many times more valuable than any past Olympics.”

A cancellation would impact the athletes, first and foremost. Many only get one shot at an Olympic medal. Others may be at the end of their careers and attempting a final go-round.

It would also be a hit to the IOC, which depends on broadcast rights for approximately three-quarters of its income.

Japan will take a worse hit. It was already estimated to have spent around $25 billion on the games and a postponement could cost an estimated $2 billion to $6 billion, per AP.

Tokyo games could depend on vaccine

Yokokura, the Japan Medical Association president, said in a video media conference on Tuesday that the event would be possible only if infections were under control around the world.

“In my view, it would be difficult to hold the Olympics unless effective vaccines are developed,” Yokokura said, via the AP.

Dean Winslow, an infections disease specialist at Stanford, told Yahoo Sports in March it seems unlikely a vaccine would be ready by then.

“I do not expect we will have a safe and effective vaccine — and manufacturing, finance and delivery systems in place for the vaccine — until the fall of 2021, at the earliest.” 

A vaccine isn’t expected for 12-18 months from the outbreak, which would be sometime in March 2021 at the earliest. Others peg the timeline at 18 to 24 months, surpassing the scheduled Tokyo Olympics.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe declared a national state of emergency on April 16. The nation has 13,614 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 385 deaths as of Tuesday, per data from Johns Hopkins. There are more than 3 million confirmed cases worldwide and more than 212,000 deaths. While some countries such as New Zealand are opening back up, the World Health Organization is concerned about trends in places such as Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

What about 2022?

The IOC has already said the window for hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics closes in July 2021. The rescheduled date was at the end of its given timeframe.

The 2022 Winter Olympics are scheduled for China beginning Feb. 4. That date could also be in jeopardy due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The common refrain is that no one knows what will happen tomorrow let alone a year from now, but it’s something for the IOC to consider.

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