Should the Tokyo 2020 Olympics be cancelled? 

Just days before the opening ceremony a cancellation has not been ruled out 

The Japan and Australia women’s softball teams line up ahead of the opening match at Tokyo 2020
The Japan and Australia women’s softball teams line up ahead of the opening match
(Image credit: Kazuhiro Fujihara/AFP via Getty Images)

Even though the games have begun there are major fears that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics could still be cancelled because of rising Covid-19 cases in Japan’s capital, and within the Olympic Village where the athletes and delegates are based.

Already delayed after last summer’s postponement, there’s been months of uncertainty regarding the hosting of sport’s biggest event. On 8 July Tokyo was placed under a fourth state of emergency since the start of the pandemic and, with measures in place until 22 August, this means the summer games will be held without spectators, Kyodo News reports.

There may be no fans at the Olympic venues, but there will be more than 11,000 athletes competing in Tokyo. Since the arrival of the teams and officials 71 people associated with the games have tested positive for Covid-19, including two South African footballers and a Czech beach volleyball player, the BBC reports.

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The sporting action started this morning with host nation Japan beating Australia in women’s softball and the opening ceremony is due to be held on Friday. But with just 48 hours until the nations and flag-bearers walk into the Olympic Stadium, Tokyo 2020 is “on a knife edge” and “everyone appears to have the jitters”, says The Guardian’s Sean Ingle.

Conflicting messages

Today host city Tokyo recorded 1,832 positive cases – an increase of nearly 700 and the “sixth highest daily tally ever in the capital”, says the Japan Times. Health experts have warned of a possible “critical” coronavirus situation in Tokyo, as they estimated infections could surge even further in early August during the games.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said yesterday that cancelling the Olympics was “never an option” because “the IOC never abandons the athletes”. However, there appears to be “increasing schism” between the IOC and the Tokyo Organising Committee, The Independent says.

That’s because after Bach’s comments, Tokyo 2020 chief Toshiro Muto would not rule out an “11th-hour cancellation”, Sky Sports reports. Asked at a news conference if the games might still be cancelled Muto said he would keep an eye on infection numbers and hold discussions with organisers if necessary.

“We can’t predict what will happen with the number of coronavirus cases,” Muto said. “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.”

Dire prediction but a ‘celebration of hope’

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, has predicted that more than 100,000 people globally will die from Covid-19 between now and the end of the Olympic Games.

Speaking at an IOC meeting in Tokyo, Ghebreyesus said “the pandemic is a test and the world is failing”. However, despite his dire predictions he believes the Olympics should go ahead as a “celebration of hope”, Sky News reports.

“The Olympics have the power to bring the world together, to inspire, to show what’s possible,” he said. “May the rays of hope from this land illuminate a new dawn for a healthy, safer and fairer world.”

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.