International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has insisted again on Wednesday (Jan 27) that all stakeholders are fully committed to staging the Tokyo Olympics in summer, after postponing them by a year.
Bach dismissed all cancellation speculation, but questions remain about how and if the Games can be staged in the current situation.
What speaks against the staging of the Tokyo Games?
The number of coronavirus infections is dangerously high in Japan and other countries, and seemingly even more contagious variants increase fears of a worsening of the crisis. A state of emergency has been declared for Tokyo and for now foreigners can't enter Japan. A synchronised swimming test event set for March is expected to be postponed. The Japanese population is also sceptical, with some 80% either expecting a cancellation or another postponement, according to the latest survey by the Kyodo News. No one can guarantee that the situation has improved in such a way that the Games with more than 10,000 athletes and thousands of officials, media and other visitors doesn't turn into a super-spreader event.
What is giving organisers hope?
Japanese organisers and the IOC expect many participants can be vaccinated by summer. Scientists know much more about the virus now than they did last March when the Games were postponed. Various sports events have been staged with strict hygiene concepts which could help Tokyo organisers. The next six months could also see the number of infections decrease in summer, like last year, and Bach reaffirmed that staging the Games was "clearly not irresponsible".
What will the athletes be facing?
The IOC plans to publish a detailed "playbook" next week which is to outline how the Games can be held safely for athletes, officials, volunteers and the media. Everyone may have to self-isolate, and is expected to provide a negative coronavirus test in order to enter Japan. Athletes are not supposed to enter the Olympic Village until five days before their competition, and to leave two days after their last competition, at the latest. Strict hygiene and distancing rules are to apply, face masks are mandatory outside competition and training, frequent coronavirus tests will be conducted and special medical areas are to be set up in the village.
Will vaccination be mandatory?
Bach reiterated on Wednesday that vaccines "are not the 'silver bullet' that will solve all our problems" and neither the IOC nor Tokyo organisers will make it mandatory. But they have asked athletes and others to get vaccinated,"not only for themselves but also in solidarity with the Japanese people and fellow Olympic participants", according to Bach. Officials have also said on many occasions that sport doesn't want to be prioritised when it comes to vaccination. But the IOC has also asked all its 206 Network Operation Centres to talk with their governments about vaccination.
Will spectators be allowed into the venues?
Veteran IOC member Richard Pound has said "it is nice to have spectators but not a must", and World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has also said that "everyone by now accepts it when having no fans is the only way to stage these Games". Organisers said in December they want visitors to come to Japan, with face masks and a corona app mandatory. A final decision on spectators is expected by spring. Bach has said in the past that competition behind closed doors is "clearly something we don't want" and that "we are working on a solution which on the one hand is safeguarding health and on the other hand reflects the Olympic spirit".
How are the athletes dealing with the uncertainty?
"We know how passionate Olympic athletes are. We know they will be flexible enough to adapt to this situation," Bach has said. German rower Oliver Zeidler, by contrast, speaks of "psycho games". Many Olympians are fearing for their form because competitions have been cancelled and training under virus restrictions is also not easy. Many still face qualifying events which would take place under difficult or possibly even unfair conditions. Nontheless, the Olympics remain a big motivation, or "a strong source of energy", according to Johannes Herber, managing director of the Athletes Germany group. Bach also said "we are fighting this fight for and like Olympic athletes" to have the Games.
What would happen if the Games are cancelled?
Many athletes would be deprived of a possibly unique opportunity and years-long training would have been in vain. But according to German Olympic supremo Alfons Hoermann,"the financial consequences through all areas of world sport" would be even worse. The IOC's main source of income comes from broadcast rights for the Games, up to US$3bil (RM12.1bil) for Tokyo. Sponsorship income would also be lost – all money that the IOC distributes among sports federations and national Olympic committees. The IOC has already helped out with some US$100mil (RM404.5mil) during the postponement but complete loss of these funds could badly hurt the sports landscape. – dpa/Christian Hollmann