Olympics cancelled? Huge hint Games won’t happen

The postponed Tokyo Olympics may not take place because of the continuing spread of the coronavirus, according to a senior member of the International Olympic Committee.

Dick Pound, the IOC's longest-serving member, gave the warning as infections continued to rise steeply in Tokyo following the declaration on Thursday of a state of emergency.

Asked by the BBC about his confidence that the Games could be held, Mr Pound, a Canadian lawyer and former swimmer, said: "I can't be certain because the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus."

His words represent a crack in the facade of confidence displayed by Olympic officials and Japanese politicians.

Tokyo reported 2,392 new infections yesterday (Friday), slightly down from Thursday's record total of 2,447. Although the pandemic has been far less widespread than in Europe and North America, the sharpness of the increase prompted Yoshihide Suga, who became prime minister in September, to declare a state of emergency in the city and three neighbouring prefectures.

Three more prefectures - Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto - asked the government to place them under the state of emergency.

In announcing the new measures Mr Suga repeated the official line, that the summer games were not jeopardised by the pandemic.

"The IOC has full confidence in the Japanese authorities and the measures they are taking," the committee said in a statement after the state of emergency was announced. "Together with our Japanese partners we continue to be fully concentrated and committed to the safe and successful delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 this summer."

Privately, however, Japanese officials acknowledged that the final decision had not yet been made and that political considerations would also be taken into account by Mr Suga, 72.

Opinion polls consistently show that less than a third of Japanese people believe the Games should go ahead, with a slightly larger proportion supporting cancellation and the same number favouring another postponement - a practical impossibility, according to Tokyo Olympic officials.

 

Even the development of effective vaccines does not guarantee that the coronavirus will have been quelled by the time of the Games. The earliest that Japan will have inoculated all its health workers will be the end of February, and it will be later still before they reach the general population.

Measures to stem the risk of infection at the Games would cost about $1.1 billion and Japan's overall bill was put at $20 billion last month.

In a separate interview Mr Pound argued that Olympic athletes should be given priority for receiving vaccines. "In Canada, where we might have 300 or 400 athletes, to take 300 or 400 vaccines out of several million in order to have Canada represented at an international event of this stature, character and level - I don't think there would be any kind of a public outcry about that," he told Sky News.

 

"It's a decision for each country and there will be people saying they are jumping the queue but I think that is the most realistic way of it going ahead."

The IOC has emphasised that athletes will not be obliged to receive vaccinations. "At the same time, the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee are fully aligned in their commitment to have as many foreign participants as possible vaccinated before the Games," it said in a statement.

"Athletes are important role models, and by taking the vaccine they can send a powerful message that vaccination is not only about personal health, but also about solidarity and consideration for the wellbeing of others."

Originally published on The Times

Originally published as Olympics cancelled? Huge hint Games won't happen


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