Tokyo 2020: Are the Olympics cancelled? Japan official’s comments sow doubts

Dubai: A senior Japanese ruling party official said on Thursday that cancelling this year’s Olympics in Tokyo remains an option if the coronavirus crisis becomes too dire, sending social media into a frenzy.

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“If it seems impossible to do it any more, then we have to stop, decisively,” Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said.

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

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With the country 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.

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But government and organising officials have consistently insisted the Games would go ahead, and the fact that a ruling party heavyweight made the comment was enough to give his comments top billing on domestic news. “Olympics Cancelled” was trending on Twitter in Japan with more than 45,000 tweets from users as of Thursday afternoon.

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Nikai later issued a written statement to explain his stance.

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“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.”

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The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) and the Tokyo government declined to comment, while the Tokyo 2020 organising committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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INFECTIONS SURGE

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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.

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Still, the government is pushing ahead with preparations 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 under way.

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“We’ll hold (the Games) in a way that’s feasible,” Taro Kono, a popular minister in charge of Japan’s vaccination drive, said. “That may be without spectators.”

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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.

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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.

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