As Japan fights a fourth outbreak of coronavirus infections and a state of emergency remains in effect in Tokyo and other prefectures before the end of the month, health professionals, industry officials, and the Japanese public are calling Tokyo Olympics Canceled.
Last week, the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, a group of around 6,000 doctors in Tokyo, wrote a letter asking for the cancellation, and organisers received a petition of 350,000 signatures in nine days in favour of the cancellation.
Last week, the CEO of Rakuten, a leading Japanese e-commerce group, said that keeping the Games in the midst of the pandemic is a “suicide mission,” making him one of the most outspoken business leaders to date.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), on the other hand, has remained confident that the Olympics, which have already been delayed by a year due to the pandemic, would be able to begin on July 23.
Organizers also published a playbook, with the full edition due next month, detailing a number of countermeasures they hope would ensure the Games are healthy and protected, even as thousands of competitors from around the world converge on Tokyo.
Officials have already stated that the Winter Olympics in Beijing would not be delayed again and that a suspension will be the most likely solution if the Games are considered dangerous to host from the rescheduled start date in July.
The IOC has the right to cancel the host city contract if “the wellbeing of players in the Games will be seriously compromised or jeopardised for any cause whatsoever,” according to the host city contract, which specifies the legal relationship between the IOC and Tokyo to host the Games.
The pressure on the organisers, according to legal analyst Jack Anderson, is likely to force a cancellation — a “political decision” rather than a purely legal one.
“The key is the welfare of those athletes, which is a primary concern of the IOC, the safety of the Japanese public, which is a primary concern of the organising committee, and the Japanese political system,” Anderson, an Australian law professor, tells CNN Sport.
“And this isn’t a typical one-time occurrence.” It’s clearly a massive multidisciplinary event taking place in a variety of venues.”
Anderson goes on to say that if the host city deal is terminated, the organising committee, which is required to ensure the Games, will bear the brunt of the costs and losses.
“It’s clear in that sense,” he says. “However, it is not straightforward in some respects since it is not clearly a deal between the International Olympic Committee and the host organising committee.”
“We have sponsorship contracts in place, we have broadcasting contracts in place, we have catering contracts in place, we have a number — a commercial web of liabilities in place here.” That’s a major contractual problem with significant insurance implications if it doesn’t go forward.”
According to a January Reuters survey, if the Olympics are cancelled, insurers will face a $2-3 billion deficit, the highest ever claim in the global event cancellation industry.
“While the International Olympic Committee is now a very wealthy organisation,” Anderson says, “its prosperity is based on its primary asset, which is organising the Games.”
“As a result, not having a Games will have a major knock-on impact in terms of sponsorship and broadcasting.” It will be impossible to quantify. But, in terms of credibility and economic risk, I believe you can safely claim that insurance alone does not cover it.”
Athletes, it is argued, would be the ones that suffer the most if the Olympics were to be cancelled.
World Athletics president Seb Coe told CNN Sport last week that 70 % of those pursuing Olympic membership will only have one opportunity to participate at what is sure to be the height of their sporting careers.
“Discarding a generation of athletes who have spent over half their young lives in search of this one moment,” Coe said, will be “discarding a generation of athletes who have spent over half their young lives in pursuit of this one moment.”
Another challenge for athletes is that countries around the world are at various levels of pandemic rehabilitation and have differing access to vaccinations, despite Coe’s assertion that “the majority of the world will be at the Games.”
With public pressure mounting to postpone the Games, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said last week that he “never positioned (the) Olympics” as a top priority.
The Olympics had been postponed three times before, in 1916, 1940, and 1944, both due to world wars.