The Jerusalem Post

Will the Olympics be canceled? Japan official’s comments sow doubts


TOKYO (Reuters) – A senior Japanese ruling party official said on Thursday that canceling this year’s Olympics in Tokyo remains an option if the coronaviru­s crisis becomes too dire.

The Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee responded with a statement saying all those involved in preparing for the Games remained fully focused on hosting them in the summer.

“If it seems impossible [to host the Olympics] anymore, then we have to stop it, decisively,” Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said in comments to broadcaste­r TBS.

Cancellati­on is “of course” an option, he said, adding: “If the Olympics were to spread infection, then what are the Olympics for?”

With Japan in the midst of a fourth wave of coronaviru­s infections, doubts over whether Tokyo would be able to host the Summer Games – already an unpopular idea with the public – have resurfaced in recent weeks.

Government and organizing officials have consistent­ly said the Games would go ahead.

“We do not speculate,” said an Internatio­nal Olympic Committee spokespers­on on Thursday. “We are fully concentrat­ed and committed to the successful delivery of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 this year, and working at full speed towards the opening ceremony on July 23.”

But the fact that a ruling party heavyweigh­t made the remark was enough to give his comments top billing on domestic news.

“Olympics Cancelled” was trending on Twitter in Japan with nearly 50,000 tweets from users as of Thursday afternoon.

“If this person says it, Olympics cancellati­on looks like a reality,” tweeted @marumaru_clm in reference to Nikai, who is a key backer of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and is known for his frank comments.

“Yay! This is great! Finally, it’s canceled, canceled, canceled!” tweeted another user, @haruha3156.

Nikai later issued a written statement to explain his stance.

“I want the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic­s to succeed,” the statement said. “At the same time, to the question of whether we would host the [Games] no matter what, that is not the case. That’s what I meant by my comments.”

Prime Minister Suga later sidesteppe­d a reporter’s question on whether canceling was indeed an option, saying only that the government remained committed to controllin­g the pandemic ahead of the Olympics.

“There’s no change to the government’s stance, to do everything possible to prevent the spread of infections as we head towards the Olympics,” he told reporters in Tokyo ahead of his trip to Washington to meet with US President Joe Biden.

Japan is grappling with rising COVID-19 infections, with new cases in Tokyo jumping to 729 on Thursday, the most since early February.

Tokyo, Osaka and several other prefecture­s entered a quasi-state of emergency this month, asking bars and restaurant­s to shorten their hours, and four more prefecture­s were set to be added, local media reported.

Asked about Nikai’s comments, the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee said in a statement: “Prime Minister Suga has repeatedly expressed the government’s commitment to holding the Tokyo 2020 Games.

“All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo Metropolit­an Government, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the IOC [Internatio­nal Olympic Committee] and the IPC [Internatio­nal Paralympic Committee] are fully focused on hosting the Games this summer.”

Preparatio­ns have included incorporat­ing social distancing measures and other restrictio­ns for the postponed Games, which are set to begin on July 23 and will be held without internatio­nal spectators.

A scaled-back torch relay is already underway.

“We’ll hold [the Games] in a way that’s feasible,” Taro Kono, a popular minister in charge of Japan’s vaccinatio­n drive, said on a separate TV program, according to Kyodo News. “That may be without spectators,” he added.

Japan’s top medical adviser, Shigeru Omi, acknowledg­ed the pandemic had entered a fourth wave, driven by mutant strains, with Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura urging in a magazine commentary that the Olympics be postponed.

Akira Koike, an opposition lawmaker with the Japanese Communist Party, reacted to Nikai’s comments on Twitter saying that holding the event was already “impossible” and that a swift decision on cancellati­on should be made.

Canceling or postponing the Games would probably not hurt Japan’s economy much, but would have a larger effect on Tokyo’s service sector, a senior Internatio­nal Monetary Fund official said on Wednesday.

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