Will Japan Cancel 2021 Summer Olympics?

With a little over a month until the start of the Tokyo Olympics, the possibility of a cancellation looms large over the Games.As Japan battles a fourth wave of coronavirus infections and a state of emergency in Tokyo and other prefectures remains in place until the end of the month, there is mounting pressure from health experts, business leaders and the Japanese public to call off the Games.

The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, an organization of about 6,000 doctors in Tokyo, penned a letter calling for a cancellation, while a petition which garnered 350,000 signatures in nine days in support of a cancellation has been submitted to organizers.Also, the CEO of leading Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten said that holding the Games amid the pandemic amounts to a “suicide mission” — among the strongest opposition so far voiced by a business leader. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has remained adamant that the Olympics, already postponed by a year amid the pandemic, will be able to get underway on July 23.

Organizers have released a playbook, the final version of which is expected next month, outlining a series of countermeasures that they say will ensure the Games can take place in a safe and secure way, even as thousands of athletes from around the world descend on Tokyo.The games, which are scheduled to take place in Tokyo and other parts of Japan from July 23 to Aug. 8, were already postponed for a year due to the coronavirus. Now, they may be pushed back again, or canceled altogether, as Covid-19 cases continue to rise, not just in Japan, but also across southeast and east Asia.Things could still change. And there are important financial, political, and institutional factors at play, as well as historical precedent: The games have only ever been canceled in wartime. Here’s what we know so far.

Who runs the Olympics?

The Olympic Games are a partnership between four main players:

  1. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which oversees the Olympic movement and directs funds to organizing bodies.
  2. The National Olympic Committees (NOC), of which there are 206. They select the athletes that will attend the Olympics, nominate host cities, and promote the Olympics at home.
  3. The Organizing Committees for the Olympic Games (OCOG), which are formed by the host country’s NOC to organize and run the Olympics. OCOGs report to the IOC.
  4. The host country and host city, which pay for the bids and finance new infrastructure and public services like extra security and border control officers.

According to the host city contract, only the IOC can cancel the games. Clause 66 gives five reasons for which the Olympics could be canceled. The most relevant one states that the IOC can terminate the contract if it has “reasonable grounds to believe” that “the safety of participants in the Games would be seriously threatened or jeopardized” by attending.

As difficult a decision as this is for IOC and Japanese officials, the people who could suffer the most are the athletes caught in the middle. While much remains up in the air, one thing is certain, says Benz: “It’s a situation unlike any the international Olympic family has found itself in the modern era.”

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