A senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) member has said that he can’t be sure that the Tokyo Olympics will take place this year due to the surge of COVID-19 cases in Japan and elsewhere. The Games are slated to open in just about six months.
The comments by Canadian IOC member Richard Pound came as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced a state of emergency in Tokyo and the surrounding areas. The emergency order is largely voluntary and will last up till the first week of February.
“I can’t be certain because the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus,” senior IOC member, Pound talked about the future of the Tokyo Games.
Tokyo reported a record of 2,447 new cases on Thursday. It was a 50% increase from the previous day, which was also a record day. Japan has had moderate success in controlling the infection. The country attributed over 3,500 deaths which is relatively low for a country of 126 million.
It is a crunch time for Tokyo. The organizers have said that the Olympics will take place. However, they are not expected to reveal concrete plans until spring. That is about the same time as the torch relay is slated to begin. It is expected to start on 25 March with 10,000 runners crisscrossing across the country for four months leading to the opening ceremony on July 23.
‘Athletes are important role models’
Senior IOC member Richard Pound also hinted that athletes should be prioritized for vaccinations because they serve as role models.
However, Pound’s comments seem to contradict IOC President Thomas Bach. The latter said in a visit to Tokyo in November that athletes should be encouraged to get a vaccine. But they won’t be required to. He also indicated they should not be a priority. Bach said that nurses, doctors and health care workers should be first in line for a vaccine, ahead of healthy, young athletes.
“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 well being of others in their communities,” Pound told British broadcaster BBC.
Reports suggest that the vaccine roll-out in Japan would be slowed down by the need of local clinical trials. Some vaccines would not be readily available until May. However, Prime Minister Suga has said some would be ready by February. The Japanese public is becoming skeptical. A poll of 1,200 people last month by national broadcaster NHK showed 63% favored another postponement or cancellation.
The Olympic budget soaring high
The Olympics were initially postponed from 2020 to 2021 due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic. The IOC has already clarified that the Games will not be postponed again but instead would be cancelled this time. The budget for the Tokyo Olympics is also hitting the sky. The new official budget is $15.4 billion, which is $2.8 billion above the previous budget. The new costs are from the delay. Several audits by the Japanese government have said the costs are closer to at least $25 billion
A study published by University of Oxford four months ago said the Tokyo Games are the most expensive Summer Olympics on record. This was before the costs from the delay were added. All but $6.7 billion of Olympic funding is public money.