Are the Tokyo Olympics Going to Go Ahead in 2021?

Posted by: Watch Athletics

What fate awaits the Tokyo Olympics in 2021? Costs continue to mount and fears of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic are increasing, threatening to disrupt proceedings yet again.

The Olympics are unique, raising the profile of sports that go largely unappreciated until the games come around, once every two years (alternating between Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics). And this year, that mandate was supposed to be fulfilled by Tokyo 2020, in hosting the XXXII Olympic Summer Games from July 24 - August 9.

Unfortunately, the 2020 Tokyo Games were postponed until the summer of next year (July 23 to August 8) because of the coronavirus pandemic that has tipped the world off of its axis, altering life as we know it, at every level. Although the games are rescheduled, to all intents and purposes, they will still be known as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

To be fair, there aren’t scores of sports fans that are avid track and field fans, enthusiastic swimming fans, diehard gymnastics fans, fencing fans, badminton fans, table tennis fans…etc. The draw of these sports simply doesn’t compare (nor can it ever) to the draw of major sports; say, for example, the billion-dollar industries that are European football (soccer to North Americans), hockey, baseball, basketball and American football. 

Moreover, Olympic athletes that reach stratospheric status and become household names are few and far in between. Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt don’t come around every day. Rather once in a blue moon. 

In comparison, most sports fans – neutrals and avid followers of any given sport – will know not only who Tom Brady is, or who Wayne Gretzky is, or who Cristiano Ronaldo is, or who Lionel Messi is, or who Mario Lemieux is, for instance, but they’ll also know a raft of other players within a given sport. That’s the result of sports that are televised daily.

Therefore, rescheduling Tokyo 2020 Olympics didn’t have quite the devastating impact as the shuttering of mainstream sports did. Missing out on the 100-meter dash wasn’t felt as acutely as missing out on Premier League football or the conclusions of the NHL and NBA seasons. 

And yet: for two weeks, when the Olympic Games get underway, they have undeniable charm as the entire world is held completely captivated, absorbed by the mass assembly of the world’s best athletes. From the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony, the world-class event has a unique ability to inspire, motivate and stimulate the imagination of young and old, neutral and sports enthusiasts.

Sports that are afterthoughts in the minds of sports fans (if they ever were a thought at all) benefit from an unprecedented global audience that is suddenly engaged and interested – if ever so briefly – in the athletic talent and prowess on display. 

The common love of sports, which has many families that are used to being huddled around a TV on a daily basis, following one of the mainstream sports usually on the telly, is unifying. And sports networks, which are only too keenly aware of the rating goldmine that the Olympics are, happily air the event in its entirety across multiple channels. 

Putting together and hosting The Olympic Games is an enormous undertaking that comes part and parcel with astronomical costs– in the billion-dollar territory. 

The Tokyo Olympics has already run-up a cost of $12.6 billion dollars – although the Associated Press (AP) reported that a Japanese government audit reported a cost approximately double that figure. 

Initial figures (when Japan won its bid) estimated the cost of the Tokyo Olympics at $7.3 billion. However, on account of the extraordinary global pandemic, which forced Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to abandon the games this summer, rescheduling it to next year instead, is bringing new costs to the bill. 

Although the IOC implied in a statement that the costs of postponing the Olympics would be shared to some extent. "The IOC and the Japanese side, including the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, will continue to assess and discuss jointly the respective impacts caused by the postponement," said the statement. Japanese media and insiders have other ideas.

Japanese news outlet Kyodo News reported back in April that the postponement is likely to add at least an estimated $2.7 billion in costs. And Japan is largely to shoulder the bulk of the burden, despite the economic downturn brought on by the public health crisis. 

More worryingly, a poll last month showed that half of Tokyo’s residents oppose the Summer Olympics being held next year, backing either an extended delay or outright cancellation because of fears surrounding the unpredictability posed by the novel coronavirus. Fears of a second wave of the pandemic, which would be more devastating than the first wave, can’t be played down. 

According to the poll, 51.7% would like to see the games postponed further, of which 27.7% said they wanted them cancelled altogether. The poll also revealed 46.3% wouldn’t mind if the games did go ahead as planned. 

The survey carried out by a couple of Japanese organisations – Kyodo News and Tokyo MX television – comes after health experts cast doubt on the games being held safely next summer. This stands against warnings by the IOC and Japan that specifically state the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics absolutely cannot be rescheduled again and thrusts the games into question. Hope springs eternal, so the saying goes, but, in reality, it’s a wait-and-see game – at least, right now.

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