Toshiro Muto, chief of the organizing committee for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, did not rule out the cancellation of the upcoming Games due to rising coronavirus cases during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a rising number of athletes have tested positive for the virus, including two alternates for the US Women’s Gymnastics team, and major sponsors like Panasonic and Toyota have backed out of advertising at the Opening Ceremony on Friday, many are left wondering about the future of the Games.
Olympics losing popularity in Japan
Additionally, Japan’s slow vaccine rollout, with just under 30% of its population fully vaccinated, and rising coronavirus cases has caused worry amongst the public about the consequences of hosting thousands of athletes from around the world.
In a poll conducted by Japanese newspaper Asahi, 68% of those who participated doubted that the Olympic organizers could control Covid-19 infections, and 55% of respondents stated that they did not believe that the Games should go ahead as planned.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee, acknowledged that support for the Games had dropped significantly in Japan, and stressed that the committee has always prioritized safety.
Tokyo Olympics chief does not rule out cancellation of Games
Faced with these issues during a press conference on Tuesday, Tokyo Olympics chief Muto stated that the committee would continue to monitor the situation, and did not rule out cancelling the Games at the last minute.
“We can’t predict what will happen with the number of coronavirus cases. So we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases…”
“We have agreed that based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again. At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises,” Muto stated.
The Tokyo Olympics, originally set for 2020, have already been postponed by one year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While organizers stressed that the Olympics would go on as normal this summer, due to the pandemic, it was decided that the much-anticipated Games would be held without spectators in early July.
Although Muto, who is a financial bureaucrat in Japan, is open to the possibility of cancelling the Games entirely, Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, has stated emphatically that cancelling the Olympics is not a possibility.
Has the Olympic “bubble” burst?
Currently, there have been three confirmed cases of the virus amongst athletes in the Olympic Village, where competitors live in a “bubble” are subject to frequent testing and their movements are severely limited.
There have been dozens of confirmed cases of the virus amongst athletes, officials, and coaches, some of whom tested positive before arriving at the Olympic Village.
Although some have faith that the Olympic “bubble” will prevent any cases amongst athletes from leaking into the broader Japanese public, many argue that the bubble has already burst.
Former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London, Kenji Shibuya, expressed his concern about the possibility of increased transmission of the virus.
“My biggest concern is, of course, there will be a cluster of infections in the (athletes’) village or some of the accommodation and interaction with local people,” he stated to Reuters.