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Where EAST meets the Northwest


Yoyogi National Stadium, where many events are planned for the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, is seen from a rooftop observation deck on January 21, 2021 in Tokyo. The postponed Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to open in just six months. Local organizers and the International Olympic Committee say they will go ahead on July 23. But itís still unclear how this will happen with virus cases surging in Tokyo and elsewhere around the globe. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Speculation over Tokyo Olympics: 2021, 2032, or not at all?

By Graham Dunbar

The Associated Press

www.asianreporter.com

January 23, 2021

GENEVA (AP) ó Just about everybody, especially the organizers in Japan and Switzerland, want the Tokyo Olympics to open on July 23 ó as scheduled.

And yet, 2021 is starting on a similar path that led to the decision last March to postpone the games for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Japanese authorities and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) moved quickly Friday to dismiss a report by The Times of London that quoted an anonymous government official claiming it has been concluded the games will be cancelled.

"Categorically untrue," Japanís government said in a statement endorsed by the IOC.

The same unidentified government official said Tokyo could instead host in 2032, after Paris and Los Angeles take their turns in 2024 and 2028, respectively.

It follows surveys suggesting Japanese people feel less and less enthusiastic about an Olympics already costing the host nation about $25 billion of mostly public money.

When will the Tokyo Olympics be held, if at all?

Cancellation?

Speculation was fuelled this month when Japanís government put Tokyo under a state of emergency order to curb a surge of COVID-19 cases.

The virus is resistant to being brought under control worldwide. Its future path is uncertain as more transmissible mutant strains emerge.

Vaccination programs have been slower than hoped for in some wealthier countries that secured significant numbers of doses.

If an unwanted cancellation decision must be made, it should be led by Japanese authorities. The United Nations could be asked to help, a veteran IOC official suggested this month.

If clarity is needed soon, with more than 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes due to compete in Tokyo, March has key dates in the Olympic calendar.

The IOC has meetings scheduled March 7-12 in Athens, Greece, if such gatherings are possible. The full membership is set to re-elect Thomas Bach unopposed for a second presidential term.

On March 25, the torch relay is due to start in Japan. It will involve 10,000 runners across the country.

The postponement last March was announced two days before the torch relay was to start.

2021?

Itís this year or never: So runs the consistent message out of Tokyo and the IOCís home city of Lausanne, Switzerland.

"There is no Plan B," Bach told the Japanese news agency Kyodo.

However, he also insisted last year there would be no postponement, and it soon became inevitable.

For the games to go ahead as planned, the travel, quarantine, and safe conduct rules will be strict. These would apply also to any fans allowed to enter venues.

Organizers plan to publish within weeks "Playbooks" that "outline the personal responsibilities each person attending the games must follow," the International Paralympic Committee said. The Tokyo Paralympics start August 24.

2022?

There was support last year in Japan for a two-year postponement direct to 2022.

One factor tempts some to think 2022 is open: There is no soccer World Cup in its usual June-July slot.

The other global sports behemoth was moved in 2015 by FIFA to play in Qatar from November 21 through December 18 next year.

Postponing again would inconvenience two key Olympic sports that already moved their 2021 world championships to make space for Tokyo.

The swimming worlds are now in May 2022 in Fukuoka, Japan. Track and fieldís worlds are now in July 2022 in Eugene, Oregon.

A bigger barrier to this option is the extra costs and fatigue in Japan of extending contracts for one more year. For staff, venue rentals, hotels, and, crucially, the athlete village.

Owners of pre-sold apartments in the 5,600-unit complex are already being compensated for waiting one more year to access their property.

2032?

The next available slot in the four-year Summer Games cycle is 2032, after Paris and Los Angeles.

Could Tokyo be offered it to cancel this year and re-start in several years time? That would upset would-be hosts already talking to the IOC.

An Australian bid centered on Brisbane is a front-runner in a new process that aims to be more pro-active and cut costs. The is promoted by Australian Olympic official John Coates, a key Bach ally.

Finances

Financial implications for Olympic stakeholders of cancelling Tokyo are huge though likely not crippling.

The IOC earned $5.7 billion in the four years to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and would have expected more from Tokyo.

Broadcast and sponsor deals are at risk, though the IOC has strong relationships with long-term commercial partners.

The most consequential deal, NBCís broadcast rights in the United States, is worth $7.75 billion through the 2032 Summer Games.

The IOC was insured against a cancellation in 2020 but that policy did not cover a postponement.

It does have substantial reserves, including an Olympic Foundation portfolio worth $989 million according to the published accounts for 2019. The fundís purpose includes "to cover the IOCís operating cash requirements in the event of a cancellation of any future Olympic Games."

The IOC is due to share about $600 million among 27 sports as their share of its Tokyo Olympics revenue.

Cancelling Tokyo is a big hit for some of those governing bodies, though most have their own reserves. They also had access to loans from the IOC and government of Switzerland, where most are based.

___

Japan vaccination uncertainty casts doubts over Olympics

By Mari Yamaguchi

The Associated Press

www.asianreporter.com

January 23, 2021

TOKYO (AP) ó Japan is publicly adamant that it will stage its postponed Olympics this summer. But to pull it off, many believe the vaccination of its 127 million citizens for the coronavirus is key.

Itís an immense undertaking in the best of circumstances and complicated now by an overly cautious decision-making process, bureaucratic roadblocks, and a public that has long been deeply wary of vaccines.

Japan hopes to start COVID-19 vaccinations in late February, but uncertainty is growing that a nation ranked among the worldís lowest in vaccine confidence can pull off the massive, $14-billion project in time for the games in July, casting doubt on whether the Tokyo Olympics can happen.

Japan has secured vaccines for all its citizens, and then some, after striking deals with three foreign pharmaceutical makers ó Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca, and Moderna Inc. Its swift action was seen as proof of its resolve to stage the games after a one-year postponement because of the pandemic.

The country needs foreign-made vaccines because local development is only in its early stages.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in a recent speech, said vaccines are "the clincher" in the fight against the pandemic and vowed to start vaccinations as soon as late February, when health ministry approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the first applicant, is expected.

Suga pledged to provide "accurate information based on scientific findings, including side effects and efficacy," an attempt to address the worries of vaccine skeptics.

Under the current plan, inoculations will start with 10,000 frontline medical workers. Then about 3 million other medical workers will be added ahead of high-risk groups such as the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and caregivers. The rest of the population is expected to get access around May or later, though officials refuse to give an exact timeline.

Japan is under a partial state of emergency and struggling with an upsurge of infections. There have been about 351,000 cases, with 4,800 deaths, according to the health ministry.

Many people are skeptical of the vaccination effort, partly because side effects of vaccines have often been played up here. A recent survey on TBS television found only 48% of respondents said they wanted a COVID-19 vaccination. In a Lancet study of 149 countries published in September, Japan ranked among the lowest in vaccine confidence, with less than 25% of people agreeing on vaccine safety, importance, and effectiveness.

Many Japanese have a vague unease about vaccines, said Dr. Takashi Nakano, a Kawasaki Medical School professor and vaccine expert. "If something (negative) happens after inoculation, people tend to think itís because of the vaccine, and thatís the image stuck in their mind for a long time."

The history of vaccine mistrust in Japan dates back to 1948, when dozens of babies died after getting a faulty diphtheria vaccine. In 1989, cases of aseptic meningitis in children who received a combined vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella, or MMR, prompted lawsuits against the government, forcing it to scrap the mix four years later.

A 1992 court ruling held the government liable for adverse reactions linked to several vaccines, while defining suspected side effects as adverse events, but without sufficient scientific evidence, experts say. In a major change to its policy, Japan in 1994 revised its vaccination law to scrap mandatory inoculation.

While several Japanese companies and research organizations are currently developing their own coronavirus vaccines, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. will distribute the Moderna vaccine and produce the Novavax vaccine in Japan.

Masayuki Imagawa, head of Takedaís Japan vaccine business unit, said his company last year considered developing its own vaccine. But instead it decided to prioritize speed and chose to import Modernaís product and make the Novavax vaccine at Takedaís factory in Japan. He said the decision was not influenced by the Olympics.

Experts also worry about running into logistical challenges and bureaucratic roadblocks in staging a massive inoculation project that involves five government ministries along with local towns and cities. The government has budgeted more than 1.5 trillion yen ($14 billion) for the vaccine project.

Thousands of medical workers would have to be mobilized to give the shots, monitor, and respond in case of any problems. Securing their help is difficult when hospitals are already burdened with treatment of COVID-19 patients, said Hitoshi Iwase, an official in Tokyoís Sumida district tasked with preparing vaccinations for 275,000 residents.

While vaccines are considered key to achieving the games, Prime Minister Suga said they wonít be required.

"We will prepare for a safe and secure Olympics without making vaccination a precondition," Suga said, responding to a call by opposition lawmakers for a further postponement or cancellation of the games to concentrate on virus measures.

Uncertainty over vaccine safety and efficacy make it difficult to predict when Japan can obtain wide enough immunity to the coronavirus to control the pandemic.

"It is inappropriate to push vaccinations to hold the Olympics," said Dr. Tetsuo Nakayama, a professor at Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences. "Vaccines should be used to protect the peopleís health, not to achieve the Olympics."

 

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