Health experts think Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics unlikely to happen next year

IOC Coordination Commission Chairman John Coates (L) and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee President Yoshiro Mori (R) attend the IOC Project Review on February 13 (by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

Two health experts have come forward to question the likelihood that the postponed Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will go ahead next summer.

The two events, which were originally scheduled to start in July and August this year, were moved to July and August 2021 respectively because of the Covid-19 crisis.

But professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global health at the University of Edinburgh, said that the events are not guaranteed to proceed as planned, unless a vaccine for the virus is found.

“If we do get a vaccine within the next year then actually I think that [the Olympics] is realistic. The vaccine will be the game-changer – an effective, affordable, available vaccine,” she said in comments reported by BBC Sport.

“If we don’t get a scientific breakthrough then I think that looks very unrealistic.”

Sridhar’s scepticism has been echoed by Kentaro Iwata, a professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University who has previously criticised Japan’s response to Covid-19, and has now warned he is also “pessimistic” the postponed event could go ahead.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think the Olympics is likely to be held next year,” said Iwata in comments reported by The Japan Times.

“Holding [the] Olympics needs two conditions: one, controlling Covid-19 in Japan and [two] controlling Covid-19 everywhere – because you have to invite the athletes and the audience from all over the world.

“Japan might be able to control this disease by next summer, I wish we could, but I don’t think that would happen everywhere on earth, so in this regard I’m very pessimistic about holding the Olympics Games next summer,” he added.

Iwata said the only way he could conceive of the Games taking place next year would be if they happened in empty stadiums or with “very limited participation”.

Last week the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organisers held an executive board meeting at which they reiterated their hope that the Games could take place next year. The two bodies have set up a joint steering committee to deliver the event led by IOC coordination commission chair John Coates and Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori [pictured].

Coates has acknowledged that Covid-19 could continue to impact mass gatherings next year and said the IOC’s decision making will be guided by the World Health Organisation.