March 5, 2021

Tokyo Olympics ‘will take place this summer’, even without vaccinations, organisers say

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Residents with masks in front of the Olympic signs
Olympic signs are in place in Tokyo

Tokyo Olympics organisers say they are not willing to see the event held behind closed doors – and that the Games “will take place this summer”.

International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said recently there could be no guarantees of the postponed 2020 Games going ahead from 23 July.

But a spokesman says it could even happen without the need for athletes or spectators to be vaccinated.

“Our position remains – we will deliver the Games,” Masa Takaya said.

“The IOC have made it clear that they are absolutely on the same page as Tokyo 2020.”

Takaya told BBC Scotland’s The Nine that a decision on how many fans will be allowed inside venues in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic will be taken in March.

“We are not willing to see the Games taking place behind closed doors,” he said. “We obviously want to see as many spectators as possible inside the venues, which is why we have been working tightly with the Japanese government and all international stakeholders, spearheaded by the IOC.

“We will see in spring how we can accommodate spectators inside the venues. We also have to see what guidance we get from the government regarding spectators and look at the situation around sports, both internationally and nationally.”

Takaya also dismissed a recent survey suggesting 80% of locals want the Games cancelled or postponed, saying that it was just one of a number of such polls.

“Most recent surveys show people want the Games to be re-postponed, but in that trend we see that people are willing to see the Games go ahead in some form, which is why we want to keep conveying how we are able organise the Games in this situation,” he said.

Takaya said the Games could be delivered without mass vaccination, pointing out that “lots of sporting events are taking place in Japan” without one.

“Our counter measures on Covid-19 are working under the assumption that we will not have a vaccine, so even if we do not, our plan is that we will be able to deliver the Games,” he said.

“The J League and baseball season will start here very soon and there will be government guidance, so we will take all of those things into our considerations.”

Takaya was aware of the problems being experienced in Melbourne, where positive cases on three flights forced 72 tennis players into full quarantine before the Australian Open, with three players testing positive.

“We have been looking into many other sporting events that have already taken place in the last six or seven months,” he said. “The feedback has been invaluable for Tokyo 2020’s planning and we will put those into our considerations and further refine our counter measures on Covid-19.

“Athletes have been training very hard to pursue their Olympic and Paralympic dreams. We are very passionate about delivering the stage for those athletes this summer.”

‘I would be making plans for cancellation’ – analysis

Sir Keith Mills, deputy chairman of the London organising committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games: “If the organisers in Tokyo really believe they can run a successful Olympic Games with sufficient athletes and countries competing in a safe environment, I think they should go ahead and do it. I am sure that, if they do do it, the Japanese public see they have pulled it off despite the challenges, they will be immensely proud.

“Personally, sitting here, looking at the pandemic around the world, in South America, North America, Africa and Europe, it looks unlikely. If I were sitting in the shoes or the organisers, I would be making plans for a cancellation and I’m sure they do, but I think they will leave it absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically. But it is a tough call.”

Gordon Reid, wheelchair tennis player and Paralympic medallist: “It’s been really eye-opening here in Melbourne to see and hear the amount of logistical challenges and the scale of trying to organise just a tennis event in the current situation.

“You’ve got to multiply that by a thousand when it comes to the Olympics and Paralympics because they are on another scale. I’ve been speaking to Shingo Kunieda, one of the Japanese tennis players who lives in Tokyo, and he told me he thinks there’s a 50% chance the Games don’t go ahead now. Globally, the situation is getting worse in some places rather than better, so all we can do is hope they find a way to make it happen safely.”