Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Updated March 23, 12 p.m.
According to USA Today, Dick Pound, the International Olympic Committee’s longest serving member, said in a phone interview: “On the basis of the information the I.O.C. has, postponement has been decided. The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
In response to Pound’s assertion, I.O.C. spokesperson Mark Adams said, via text, “Well, as we announced yesterday, we are looking at scenarios.”
Last Friday, March 20, pressure for postponement mounted as a number of officials and governing bodies, such as U.S.A. Swimming and U.S.A. Track and Field, made official statements. Norway’s Olympic committee became the first to state they would like to see the Games postponed until the pandemic has subsided. The Brazil Olympic committee followed suit on Saturday. Last night, March 22, Canada made the most hardline announcement yet–that should the Games continue as scheduled, the country will not be sending athletes. Australia then gave its athletes a similar warning.
Up until this past weekend, Japanese officials have denied the possibility of Olympic cancellation or alteration–the Japanese Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, remarked in parliament that it was “impossible” that the Games would be delayed. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan said, “We will overcome the spread of the infection and host the Olympics without problem, as planned.”
Last Tuesday, the I.O.C. said they remain “fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020,” adding, “with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counterproductive.”
The I.O.C., however, announced last night that they will decide within four weeks whether to postpone or scale down the Games. Likewise, Minister Abe has changed his tune, saying he would accept postponement of the Games depending on a decision from the I.O.C..
Another member of the Japanese Olympic committee board, Kaori Yamaguchi, has spoken out. “Opening the Olympics at a time when athletes could not train as much as they wanted to runs counter to the motto of ‘athletes first,’” Yamaguchi told The Asahi Shimbun. “The Games should be postponed.”
Other than Dick Pound, no members of the I.O.C. have yet to concede to official postponement.
The economic incentives to keep the Games going are staggering. According to an audit by the Japanese government, the Tokyo Olympic bid was more than $26 billion. Even just to refund spectator ticket sales, Tokyo organizers would owe some $850 million. The Tokyo Games, originally branded as “The Recovery Games” were meant to help revitalize the Japanese economy, which has been devastated since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. When The Nation visited Fukushima in July 2019, they saw “black pyramids” of plastic bags–all full of radiation soaked-soil. “We saw abandoned homes and businesses that surely could have used the billions that are being funneled into the Games,” they wrote.
Despite the pressure for postponement, the logistics against that course of action are hefty. New volunteers would need to be recruited, new housing would need to be built and other 2021 events, such as the world championships for swimming and for track and field, would likely need to be rescheduled. Given what Japan has already spent on the Olympics, it seems improbable that the continued costs could be floated. “You have to ask if you can hold the bubble together for an extra year,” Pound told The Associated Press.
Olympic qualified athlete Mia Krampl, from Slovenia, told Gym Climber: “I can’t imagine what would happen if the Olympics are cancelled because it is such a big and important event. The Olympics have changed the training plans and climbers’ dreams a lot and to shut down these dreams just like that would disappoint all the participants. On the other hand I think … our health should be considered first.”
Despite the long-lasting economic and social impacts of postponing or cancelling the Games, not doing so will potentially lead to the deaths of millions.