Turbulent Games: Over half of Tokyo respondents want Olympics scrapped
In a telephonic poll conducted by Kyodo News and Tokyo MX television between June 26-28, 51.7 % of the 1,030 respondents hoped the 2021 Games are postponed again or cancelled while 46.3 % want the rescheduled Olympics to go ahead.Updated: Jun 29, 2020 23:36 IST
With a week left for the Tokyo governor’s election amid a raging debate over the billions being spent on the postponed Olympics, more than half the Japanese capital’s residents polled feel the Games should not be held next year.
In a telephonic poll conducted by Kyodo News and Tokyo MX television between June 26-28, 51.7 % of the 1,030 respondents hoped the 2021 Games are postponed again or cancelled while 46.3 % want the rescheduled Olympics to go ahead.
Among those opposed to the Games, 27.7 % wanted them cancelled while 24.0 percent were for another postponement. Of those who wanted the Games to be held next year, 31.1 % were for a scaled-back version, without spectators, while 15.2 % were for a full-fledged Olympics.
Though the sample size is miniscule in a city of more than 38 million people, this is not the first time the hosting of the Olympics in 2021 amid the covid-19 pandemic has been questioned.
Tokyo 2020 was postponed in March as the coronavirus spread across the globe, causing the worst disruption to the Olympics since two editions were cancelled during World War II. The Games are now scheduled from July 23, 2021, though they will still be known as Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Officials from Japan and the International Olympic Committee have warned it will not be possible to postpone again and that even the year-long delay has caused significant financial and logistical headaches.
According to the organisers, $12.6 billion are being spent for the Olympics, although a government audit last year said it was twice that much. All but $5.6 billion is public money. The estimated budget was just $7.3 billion in 2013 when Tokyo was awarded the Games.
Estimates in Japan say the postponement will lead to a cost escalation of $2-6 billion. The biggest additional costs will be due to keeping staffers on payroll and maintaining empty venues. Incumbent Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike has declined to give an official estimate, as have IOC and the local organising committee.
A poll published in June by Japanese broadcasters NHK said two-thirds of the Games sponsors are undecided about extending for another year—67 companies have signed up as local sponsors, most lined up by Dentsu Inc, the giant Japanese advertising agency, which is the exclusive marketing body for Tokyo 2020. Games organisers say they have to re-negotiate contracts with 11 so-called TOP sponsors, who also have long-term contracts with IOC.
Japan’s Asahi daily reported citing unnamed sources that the organisers will seek “more sponsor fees payments”. This could face opposition as many companies are struggling with the pandemic and a loss of revenue.
IOC says it will pick up $650 million to defray the costs of delay. The rest will have to be met by the local organising committee and various levels of the Japanese government.
Organisers and IOC say they plan to cut costs next year by “downsizing and simplifying”. Suggestions are reportedly being made to crunch the torch relay and combine the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics and Paralympics.
Pandemic rages on
The bigger issue than finance is the covid-19 pandemic; more than 10 million have tested positive globally with over half a million deaths. Though Japan has seen low numbers (18,390 positive, 971 deaths), it’s a different story in other parts of the world.
The Olympics will see the congregation of nearly 11,000 athletes from 200 nations and territories, 4,400 Paralympians, and thousands of staff, technical officials, broadcasters and journalists. Add the fans—if they are allowed—who have bought more than 4 million tickets, and up to 80,000 volunteers.
“Tokyo will turn into a petri dish by having so many people coming from around the world,” Taro Yamamoto, a popular actor-turned-politician who is in the governor’s race, said. “We should notify IOC that Tokyo cannot hold the event safely.”
Yamamoto is not alone. “My personal opinion is that if an effective vaccine has not been developed, it will be difficult to hold the Olympics,” Yoshitake Yokokura, president of the Japan Medical Association, said in April.
Research teams around the world are rushing to find a vaccine, but experts say it could take 12 to 18 months to develop one, leave alone distribute it globally.
Even some athletes are unsure. “I’m really concerned about the Olympics because that is relevant to my history, my legacy,” Leander Paes said during a recent webinar hosted by Indian Chamber of Commerce - Young Leaders Forum.
“With the global economy also going down, how will those corporate sponsors for the Olympics still stand their ground to support the Olympics? How will the Japanese sporting governance still be able to conduct the Olympics, especially if it is behind closed doors? Where is the revenue coming from knowing that the stadiums are empty?” the most successful doubles player in Davis Cup with 44 wins, asked.
So far, 78 athletes from India have qualified for the Games. India sent a 117-member contingent to the 2016 Rio Games and 83 competitors to London in 2012.