The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will have to be canceled if the coronavirus pandemic is not controlled by next year, the organizing committee chairman said in comments published Tuesday.
The pandemic has already forced a year-long delay for the Games – which are scheduled to open on July 23, 2021 – but Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said that no further postponement is possible.
In an interview with Japan’s Nikkan Sports daily, Mori was adamant when asked if the Olympics could be postponed until 2022 if the pandemic remains a threat next year, replying, “No.”
“In that case, it is canceled,” said Mori.
Mori noted that the Games had previously been canceled only during the war and compared the battle against the coronavirus to “fighting an invisible enemy”.
If the virus is successfully contained, “we will keep the Olympics in peace next summer,” he added. “Humanity is betting on that.”
Masa Takaya, a Tokyo 2020 spokesman, declined to comment on a possible cancellation of the Games, telling reporters that Mori’s remarks were based on “the president’s own thoughts”.
Japanese organizers and the International Olympic Committee, under heavy pressure from athletes and international sports federations, agreed in March with a year’s postponement of the Games.
Japanese officials said the delay in the Olympics would be a chance to show the world triumph over the coronavirus, but doubts arose over whether a one-year delay is sufficient.
On Tuesday, the head of the Medical Association of Japan warned that it would be “extremely difficult” to host the Games next year, if a vaccine were not found.
“I wouldn’t say they shouldn’t be kept, but it would be extremely difficult,” Yoshitake Yokokura told reporters at a briefing.
And last week, a Japanese medicine expert who criticized the country’s response to the coronavirus warned that he was “very pessimistic” that the postponed Olympics could be held in 2021.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think the Olympics are likely to take place next year,” Kentaro Iwata, professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University, said in a briefing.
But Tokyo 2020 spokesman Takaya replied that even medical experts said it was too early to judge that possibility.
In the interview, Mori also said that organizers are considering holding joint opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics and Paralympics in an effort to reduce costs.
Under the plan, the Paralympic Games would join the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on July 23, and the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games would be integrated into the closing event for the Paralympic Games in September.
But Mori admitted that Tokyo organizers had not yet obtained the consent of the IOC and its Paralympic colleagues in this plan.
“This goes for a considerable cut in costs and a great message of victory against the global crisis, but it is not easy,” said Mori.