The Japanese government said Sunday it remains committed to holding the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer, reacting to an international media storm sparked by comments from one of its senior ministers.
“We have decided the venues and schedule (for the games), and the people involved are working on preparations including infection control,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, the top government spokesman, said on a television program.
Kato’s assurances came after Reuters quoted Japan’s administrative and regulatory reform minister, Taro Kono, as saying the fate of the games “could go either way.”
“Anything is possible, but as the host of the games we need to do whatever we can, so that when it’s a go, we can have a good Olympic Games,” Kono said, according to the news agency.
The remarks were carried by several media outlets across the world as it is the first time a high-ranking member of the government has indicated any doubt over the postponed games going ahead.
Kono’s comments came about a week after Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee, told the BBC he believes there is no guarantee the games will go ahead.
“I can’t be certain because the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus,” he was quoted as saying, casting doubt over IOC President Thomas Bach’s ambition for the games to be “the light at the end of this dark (pandemic) tunnel.”
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The former chief executive of the London 2012 Olympics says it is "unlikely" that the Tokyo Games will take place this summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Entrepreneur Sir Keith Mills told the BBC that organisers should now be "making plans for a cancellation".
Tokyo is currently in a state of emergency after a surge of coronavirus cases in the Japanese capital.
It is due to host world sport's biggest event in just six months time.
The showpiece has already been subject to an unprecedented year-long postponement as a result of the crisis.
The official cost has increased by 22% to £11.5bn, with the renegotiation of contracts and more security measures adding £2.1bn to the bill.
Tokyo 2020: Olympics and Paralympics will go ahead, says Japan's PM amid rising infections Speaking exclusively to Radio 5 Live's Wake Up To Money, Sir Keith said, "I think they'll leave it to absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically, in case the vaccinations roll out faster than we all hoped. It's a tough call.
"Personally, sitting here looking at the pandemic around the world, it looks unlikely I have to say.
"If I was sitting in the shoes of the organising committee in Tokyo, I would be making plans for a cancellation and I'm sure they have plans for a cancellation. They've got another month or so before they need to make a call."
The rescheduled Tokyo Games may have to be held behind closed doors if they are to go ahead in Japan this year, athletics chief Lord Coe has admitted.
The World Athletics president remained confident the Olympics and Paralympics would take place despite a Times report suggesting they would be cancelled.
"I would love to have fans, noisy and passionate," Coe told the BBC.
"But if the only way we're able to deliver it is behind closed doors, I think everybody is accepting of that."
Coe, who headed the London 2012 organising committee and is also an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, said, in the event of a cancellation, it was "not a realistic solution" to push back Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 in order for Tokyo to host the Olympics in three years' time.
Last March, organisers decided to postpone the 2020 Games for a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, doubts over whether they would happen at all increased in recent weeks following a rise in cases in some countries, including Japan where a state of emergency was declared in Tokyo.
A report in Friday's Times newspaper quoted a senior member of the ruling coalition, who said the events would be cancelled.
In response to that article, Tokyo 2020 organisers released a statement declaring that Japan's prime minister Yoshihide Suga had "expressed his determination" to hold the Olympics and Paralympics and that all stakeholders remained focused on delivering the event. The IOC said the suggestion of a cancellation was "categorically untrue".
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said that "with the robust measures and plans we have in place, the Games can and will go ahead safely". The Olympics are due to start on 23 July, followed by the Paralympics on 24 August.
Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshiro Muto said a global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines could be a key factor in allowing the Games to be staged.
"Once vaccinations are conducted widely in the US and Europe, I think there is no doubt that it will have a positive effect [on the Games]," he said on Friday.
"However, it doesn't solve everything. We are hopeful about the vaccines, but at the same time, I think it is inappropriate to be totally dependent on it."
Coe added: "It's a challenge - it'll be delusional not to believe that.
"There are two really big differences between this time last year and where we are today. One is the vaccine, and that will be rolled out quite dramatically over the next few months. We are still six months away from the Games.
"And, in our own sport, the athletes still have access to their training facilities and are still competing."
IOC President Thomas Bach held consultation calls with the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) on Friday, as the Olympic Movement enters the final stretch in the preparations for the postponed Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, and the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
In the calls, he explained that the IOC continues to work together with the Tokyo and Beijing Organising Committees, as well as with the local and national governments in Japan and China. The IOC is also continuing to consult with the World Health Organization (WHO), to make every effort towards staging safe and secure Games.
In that respect, the IOC and its partners have been developing a toolbox of COVID-19 countermeasures, which includes immigration procedures, quarantine measures, testing, personal protective equipment, contact tracing and also vaccinations.
Vaccines are one of many tools available in the toolbox, to be used at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way. The IOC continues to strongly support the priority of vaccinating vulnerable groups, nurses, medical doctors and everyone who is keeping our societies safe.
When vaccination is made available to a broader public, the IOC calls for Olympic and Paralympic teams to be vaccinated given their role as ambassadors of their NOCs and given the role of sport “to promote safe sport as a contributor to the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities”, as recently stated in a UN resolution which was adopted by consensus in the UN General Assembly. This resolution also highlighted the importance of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Therefore, the IOC will work with the NOCs to encourage and assist their athletes, officials and stakeholders to get vaccinated in their home countries, in line with national immunisation guidelines, before they go to Japan. This is to contribute to the safe environment of the Games, but also out of respect for the Japanese people, who should be confident that everything is being done to protect not only the participants, but also the Japanese people themselves.
During the consultation calls with the NOCs, the IOC was informed that a number of national governments have already taken positive decisions in this respect or are in consultation with their NOCs.
In order to get a full picture about the vaccination situation for the 206 NOCs, the IOC will send a letter to the NOCs asking them to actively engage with their respective governments on this matter and to report back to the IOC in early February 2021. The NOCs are encouraged to do so in association with their respective National Paralympic Committees.
“In all these conversations and initiatives, the IOC is guided by four principles: firstly, to organise Olympic Games in a safe environment for everyone. Secondly, vaccination priority should be given to vulnerable groups, nurses, medical doctors and everyone who is keeping our societies safe. Thirdly, we encourage all the Olympic and Paralympic participants who are offered vaccination to accept it, also as an act of solidarity with the Japanese hosts and their fellow participants. Fourthly, vaccination will not be obligatory,” said IOC President Bach.
The NOCs were also reminded that WHO and the IOC are working together to promote global health and wellbeing, in particular for the prevention of non-communicable diseases. WHO, the IOC and the UN recently cooperated in the #HealthyTogether campaign to help protect people against COVID-19.
Therefore, the IOC asked the NOCs to actively support this and other campaigns in their territories. Athletes are important role models, and those taking the vaccine can send a powerful message that vaccination is not only about personal health, but also about solidarity and consideration for the wellbeing of others in their communities.
The prospect of Romania being banned outright from weightlifting at Tokyo 2020 has moved a step nearer after two anti-doping rule violations at the London 2012 Olympic Games were formally closed by the International Testing Agency (ITA).
The news means that Romania’s fate is now in the hands of an independent panel which has already banned three nations outright from this year's re-arranged Olympic Games - Thailand, Egypt and Malaysia.
Colombia and Vietnam, both of which have had three doping positives within the Olympic qualifying period, are also liable to suspension, though Colombia is appealing in the case of three athletes who say they ingested boldenone through tainted meat.
Russia and Iraq could also find themselves in trouble for multiple violations.
Romania was already limited to sending only one male and one female athlete to Tokyo 2020 because of its doping record since the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Its top male lifter in the rankings, Nicolae Onica, was provisionally suspended last September after testing positive for anabolic steroids.
After that suspension, no Romanian male was likely to make it through qualifying to Tokyo 2020.
But if the ban is confirmed as expected, Romania will lose a genuine medal chance in the women’s events.
Loredana Toma, the European champion, stands fourth in the 64 kilogram rankings and her 249kg total early last year in Rome is the third highest by any athlete in that class.
In her absence Maude Charron of Canada and Mattie Sasser of the United States could come into the reckoning.