The Tokyo Olympics Were Rescheduled To 2021, But Are We As Ready As We Hoped?


The Tokyo Summer Olympics are fast approaching, and officials are divided on whether or not the games should still be held

If held, the Tokyo Olympics will be a “symbol of global solidarity”, according to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga [BBC]. The games are set to run from July 23 to Aug 8, but Suga’s confident disposition is questionable when looking at the spike of coronavirus cases in Japan. Tokyo is seeing record case numbers of over 1,000 new infections per day, and parts of the country are in a month-long state of emergency where residents are being asked to stay home as much as possible. In fact, entrepreneur Sir Keith Mills stated that the Olympic organizers should be “making plans for a cancellation” [BBC].

Mills is not alone, for a poll run in Kyodo News, a top Japanese news agency, showed that 80 percent of respondents wanted the games to be postponed or outright cancelled [KyodoNews]. Yet, Olympic officials continue to assure the public that the games will occur, with International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach stating that “… there is no plan B… we are fully committed to [making] these games safe and successful” [KyodoNews].

A recent anonymous tip from the British newspaper, The Times, suggests that the confident facade put on by officials may just be a cover after all. A senior member of Japan’s coalition stated that “No one wants to be the first to say so, but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” and that “Personally, [he doesn’t] think it’s going to happen” [TheTimes]. Olympic and Japanese officials were quick to dismiss the report, with Prime Minister Suga telling The Washington Post last Friday that the reports were “categorically untrue”.

Amidst the back-and-forth between various officials, experts on the coronavirus agree that the Olympics are an “ideal setting” for the spread of the virus.Even if things are under control in many places, bringing people together for the Olympic Games could help reignite infection in multiple other ways,” said clinical professor at the University of California San Francisco, Mary E. Wilson. Although vaccinations have already been administered in some areas, the logistical challenge of distribution coupled with the fact that the Olympics bring contests from all over the world diminish the reliability of vaccines. Not to mention that all 127 million Japanese residents would have to be vaccinated, something that will not even start until late February [Reuters].

New strains of the coronavirus also pose a threat, with some appearing to be more contagious than ever before. Healthcare officials in Japan are criticizing the government for their stubbornness, saying that the exact same statements were made last year when the Olympic Committee abruptly postponed the games after weeks of insisting that postponement would be “impossible” [NPR]. The government is “pushing the games forward without really understanding the critical situation our healthcare system is in,” said Dr. Jin Kuramochi, a clinic worker outside of Tokyo.  “They’re not beating the virus, and they are not ready for the Olympics” [NPR].

The committee is expected to make a decision by March 25, when the Olympic Torch Relay is set to begin, but it is possible the decision could come as suddenly as the news of the postponement last year. Officials are clearly divided, with the Japanese government doing everything in their power to ensure the public that they will handle the event with safety as the utmost priority. Considering Japan spent 25 billion dollars to host the games with a return on investment not guaranteed, and the next open slot is not until 2032, it is understandable that they would be opposed to scrapping the games all together. 

Athletes train their whole careers for a shot at the Olympics, and the cancellation of the Tokyo Summer Olympics could be a slap in the face to all the hard work they have put in. Gymnast Simone Biles said that she hopes the games can go on, and that “Whatever they say they want us to do, I’m in 100 percent, because I’ve been training so hard, and I’ve just been so ready” [Today]. The Olympics could be what the world needs more than a year into the pandemic, but as always safety comes first, and unless the situation in Japan improves drastically, outright cancellation is the most likely outcome.