Tokyo 2020 Olympics are still on as scheduled amid sporting shutdown

Mar 13 2020, 12:01 pm

As of this moment, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Tokyo Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (TOCOG) are still pressing forward with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games as planned.

And this was evident with yesterday’s lighting of the Olympic Flame in Ancient Olympia, Greece, marking the start of the 2020 Olympic Torch Relay leading up to the Olympic Opening Ceremony, which is now 133 days away.

With the rapidly escalating COVID-19 pandemic, there have been severe health and safety concerns with proceeding with the Games as planned, but organizers said they remain confident in their preparations and ability to stage the event.

Schools across Japan have been closed since the start of March and are slated to remain closed until at least the end of the month. Japan, as of yesterday, had reported 691 cases of the coronavirus, including seven deaths. This does not include the 696 cases on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where seven people died.

“The many measures being taken now by authorities all around the world give us confidence and keep us fully committed to delivering Olympic Games that can bring the world together in peace,” said the IOC in a released statement yesterday.

Qualifying events for the Olympics, such as World Cups and World Championships, in the months leading up to the Tokyo Games, have been largely canceled or postponed as a precaution.

The Tokyo Marathon, held earlier this month, was slated to attract nearly 40,000 runners, but the field of competition was cut to just roughly 200 elite leaders to ensure the Olympic-qualifying component of the race could still be fulfilled.

Previous comments made by Canadian IOC member Dick Pound on the potential cancelation of the Games, with a decision possibly made by May, have largely been rebuked by the IOC’s current leadership. However, it should be noted that Pound was a previous vice-president of the organization.

“The IOC is proud of the solidarity and flexibility shown by the athletes, the International Federations and the National Olympic Committees, which are managing challenges with the qualification system in a number of sports. We are addressing them together,” continues the statement.

“The IOC is cooperating closely with all those concerned and demonstrating all the flexibility needed to adapt the qualification systems. We are also working with all other stakeholders, including Rights-Holding Broadcasters and sponsors, in order to address the current situation.”

Some reports of Japanese officials suggesting the postponement of the 32nd Olympiad to another period creates other immense challenges as well, given the intricate logistical complexities of the Games, the availability of sports venues, Athletes Village, hotels, and media facilities, as well as the post-Olympics coordination with the subsequent Paralympics.

Organizers also have to consider other events in the busy global sports event calendar, with Olympic rights holder broadcasters committed to other tournaments later in 2020 or even in 2021.

The IOC formed a joint task force in the middle of February — comprised of the World Health Organization, City of Tokyo, Government of Japan, and TOCOG — to monitor and respond to the growing coronavirus situation.

Yesterday’s lighting ceremony in Greece had a smaller attendance than usual as it was closed to the public due to coronavirus precautions. The Olympic Flame will travel through Greece for a week, before it is flown to Tokyo on March 19 for the start of the domestic Olympic Torch Relay within Japan.

“This ceremony demonstrates once more our commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Nineteen weeks before the Opening Ceremony, we are strengthened in this commitment by the many authorities and sports organizations around the world which are taking so many significant measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” said IOC President Thomas Bach in his speech at the ceremony.

“At the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 we will stand together, united in all our diversity. We will be united by our commitment to the Olympic values. We will be united by our emotions. This makes each and every one of us a member of this unique Olympic community. This Olympic community will show the entire world that our shared humanity is stronger than all the forces that want to divide us.”

Over 600,000 international visitors were expected to visit the Tokyo region for the 2020 Games.

In the seven-year lead-up to the Games, the Japanese government and TOCOG have been widely publicly referring Tokyo 2020 as the “Recovery Olympics” from the devastating earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear meltdown disaster of 2011. The 2020 Games were meant to showcase and boost Japan’s economy in the same way as the Tokyo 1964 Summer Olympics, which were held 19 years after the Second World War.

Japan spent an estimated USD $26 billion on direct and indirect projects related to the staging of the upcoming Olympics.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are scheduled to take place from July 24 to August 9.