'Not willing': Japan's defiant call amid Olympics 'cancellation' fears

Andrew Reid
·4-min read
Pictured here, a Japanese woman poses with the Olympic rings in Tokyo.
Tokyo Olympics organisers insist the Games will go ahead in 2021. Pic: Getty

Tokyo Olympics organisers have ruled out staging the Games behind closed doors after defiantly insisting the world's biggest sporting event will go ahead in spite of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan's government plans to hold the Olympic Games in Tokyo this year without making vaccination against coronavirus a condition of participation.

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"We are considering comprehensive measures to hold a safe and secure games, even without making vaccines a condition," government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said on Tuesday.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has already on several occasions ruled out making vaccination compulsory for athletes.

However, organisers are pushing for as many athletes and others who travel to Tokyo to be vaccinated as possible.

Some 11,000 athletes from around the world are due to take part, plus thousands of officials and media.

The possibility of holding the Games behind closed doors has understandably been raised, but spokesperson Masa Takaya told the BBC that organisers are "not willing" to entertain that possibility.

"We are not willing to see the Games taking place behind closed doors," he said.

"We obviously want to see as many spectators as possible inside the venues, which is why we have been working tightly with the Japanese government and all international stakeholders, spearheaded by the IOC.

"We will see in spring how we can accommodate spectators inside the venues. We also have to see what guidance we get from the government regarding spectators and look at the situation around sports, both internationally and nationally."

Japan's defiant stance is in stark contrast to the views of former deputy chairman of the 2012 London Olympic organising committee, Keith Mills, who told the BBC he would be planning for a cancellation if in charge of the Tokyo Games.

"If I was sitting in the shoes of the organising committee in Tokyo, and thankfully I’m not, I would be making plans for a cancellation," he said.

"I’m sure they have plans for a cancellation but I think they will leave it to absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically and in case the vaccines roll out faster.

"It’s a tough call and I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes."

Mills says he believes it's highly unlikely that the Summer Games in Tokyo - scheduled for July and August - will go ahead due to the global pandemic.

Seen here, London 2012 organiser Keith Mills is seen here talking to media.
London 2012 organiser Keith Mills holds grave fears about the fate of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Pic: Getty

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed to forge ahead with preparations for the Games in the face of growing public opposition as Japan battles a surge in coronavirus infections.

Recent media polls showed close to 80% of Japanese believe the Olympics, already postponed by a year because of the pandemic, should be delayed again or cancelled entirely.

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World Athletics head Seb Coe, who was the chairman of the 2012 organising committee, told Sky News he did not think the Games would be cancelled but they would be a challenge and a very different experience.

"Of all the countries on the planet that really has the fortitude, and resilience and the street-smarts to see this through, it is actually Japan," he said.

"I wake up as a federation president really grateful that it is Japan that's dealing with this and not some other places that I can think of. So I'm sure we will be there.

"I think there will be big issues around crowds and distancing the athletes. Just think about the village, you've got 10,500 athletes and probably another 7,000 support staff in there and they're all probably wanting to eat at roughly the same time," he added.

"I think the Games will take place but they will look different."

Japan plans to start vaccinating its population at the end of February, according to the government.

This will be around two months later than some western nations, as Japan wants to carry out testing domestically first.

The campaign will start with medical personnel. Those aged 65 or older are next in line, possibly at the end of March. After that, vaccines will be extended to people with pre-existing conditions and those who care for the elderly.

Japan's government has put in place a state of emergency for the greater Tokyo area and other prefectures as coronavirus infection numbers continue to pass new record highs.

Japan has recorded more than 330,000 infections so far and some 4,500 deaths.

with agencies

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