Japanese prime minister Abe: Olympic postponement may be inevitable

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, has offered the first major indication from the country that a postponement of this summer’s Olympic Games may be unavoidable, as the world continues to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Throughout the outbreak, Abe has maintained that Tokyo’s Olympics would go ahead as planned and “in its complete form”, insisting that the country would be ready and that to postpone or cancel at this stage would be too costly.

However, following a softening in the International Olympic Committee’s own stance over the weekend, Abe has now opened the door for the Games to be pushed back into 2021, accepting that the preparation of athletes from around the world, as well as of the Japanese capital itself, was being stymied by the pandemic.

Abe told a parliamentary session that Japan was still committed to staging a “complete” games, but, if “that becomes difficult, in light of considering athletes first, it may become inevitable that we make a decision to postpone”.

Abe stated: “If I’m asked whether we can hold the Olympics at this point in time, I would have to say that the world is not in such a condition. It’s important that not only our country but also all the other participating countries can take part in the games fully prepared.”

Abe added: “Although the IOC will make the final decision [on the matter], we are of the same view that cancellation is not an option”.

According to the Kyodo News, the Japanese government is now set to tell the IOC that it will accept a postponement of the Games if it is deemed necessary as a precaution against the coronavirus. The Japanese Olympic Committee’s president Yoshiro Mori has already stated that he supports the IOC’s decision to review plans and explore alternative solutions. 

A statement from the Tokyo Organising Committee today (Monday) read: “In light of this situation, Tokyo 2020 held an urgent video conference with IOC President Bach last night, during which we agreed to proceed with detailed discussions of different scenarios, including postponement of the Games, in full coordination with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Government of Japan, relevant Japanese authorities, international sport federations and National Olympic Committees.”

It added, however, that an outright cancellation of the Games was categorically “not on the agenda.” A report by Japanese financial firm SMBC Nikko Securities has estimated that Japan’s gross domestic product would be reduced by 1.4 per cent, equivalent to ¥7.8tn ($75bn), if the Tokyo Olympics was cancelled. A large financial hit is inevitable even if the Games is only postponed rather than cancelled.

The IOC’s position on the issue changed over the weekend after multiple Olympic groups, including World Athletics, USA Track and Field, Brazil’s Olympic Committee, and athlete representative body Global Athlete, spoke out to back postponing the Games. The Australian and Canadian Olympic Committees have already told their athletes to begin preparing for a Games to be held in 2021.

Previously, the IOC had been insistent that the Olympics would go ahead as scheduled, holding that a postponement was not under consideration, but it has now stated that it will make an assessment of the situation in the next four weeks. 

In a statement released on Sunday, the IOC said: “To safeguard the health of all involved and to contribute to the containment of Covid-19, the executive board of the international Olympic Committee today announced that that the IOC will step up its scenario-planning for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

“These scenarios relate to modifying existing operational plans for the Games to go ahead on 24 July 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the Games. This step will allow better visibility of the rapidly changing development of the health situation around the world and in Japan. It will serve as the basis for the best decision in the interest of the athletes and everyone else involved.”