In early March 2020, officials from the International Olympic Committee (including organization president Thomas Bach) definitively said the Tokyo Games would go ahead as planned despite growing concerns surrounding COVID-19. Just three weeks later, the IOC postponed the Games, pushing them to the summer of 2021. Now, with the pandemic still raging in much of the world, the IOC is stating as firmly as ever that the Tokyo Olympics will be fine and that the Games will be able to run seven months from now. This should be reassuring, but with the IOC’s track record when it comes to predicting the future during COVID-19, it’s tough to believe anything Bach and his team say. With so much uncertainty, we continue to ask: will the Tokyo 2021 Olympics happen?
Today, to mark 100 days to go until the #Tokyo2020 Olympic Torch Relay begins, the Japanese capital’s famous Skytree landmark was illuminated in the colours of the Olympic torch, while @Tokyo2020 confirmed plans for the municipalities along the route. https://t.co/7bCUY86OjT pic.twitter.com/DMJbLmkDNa
— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) December 15, 2020
To open the New Year, Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga assured his citizens that Tokyo 2021 would go ahead as planned. He shared the same positivity Bach had displayed a few weeks earlier after visiting Tokyo and touring the Olympic facilities. After that trip, he said the Games will be “the light at the end of this dark tunnel” that the pandemic has created, telling Time magazine that Tokyo “is the best-ever prepared Olympic city.” In the same interview, Bach went on to say he and the IOC are “very, very confident and at this moment we have no reason to believe that the Games could not take place.”
No reason to believe the Games couldn’t take place? It sounds like a joke. The Olympics have only been cancelled on three occasions (1916, 1940 and 1944, all due to world wars), but the next-closest they have come to being scrapped altogether was in 2020 due to COVID-19. We get it, there’s a lot invested in the Olympics (Time estimated anywhere from $12 billion to $26 billion), but it doesn’t make sense when Bach says he sees no reason why the Games can’t go ahead in just a few months.
"Tokyo is the best-ever prepared Olympic city," says Bach, playing down fears of COVID-19 forcing a cancellation https://t.co/9Q7302iEv3
— TIME (@TIME) December 15, 2020
So far, almost 86 million people have contracted COVID-19 worldwide, and the numbers continue to rise every day. Of those positive cases, almost two million people have died. Major cities and full countries are back in lockdowns around the world, and Suga reportedly announced on Monday that he is considering declaring a state of emergency in Tokyo. Yeah, that Tokyo — the same city where Bach sees no reason thousands of athletes from more than 200 countries can’t gather for what could become one of the biggest super-spreader events of the entire pandemic.
We love the Olympics, and we of course want to see them go ahead. Athletes want to compete, fans want to watch and organizers want to make their money. But the IOC should take a step back and look at the bigger picture before declaring, once again, that the Tokyo Games are a sure thing.