Tokyo: The Japanese public is being prepared for the reality of next year’s postponed Olympics. It will be an Olympics where athletes are likely to face quarantines and spectators will be fewer. The delay will also cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
In the last several weeks, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has given selected interviews outside Japan. He has hinted at empty stadiums, quarantines and virus testing.
IOC member John Coates, who oversees Tokyo preparations, said a few weeks ago in Australia that the Tokyo Olympics face ‘real problems’. This is because of the numbers involved: 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes to start with. Then there will be staff, officials, media and up to 80,000 volunteers.
The stark message about a very different, reduced Olympics is now being floated in Japan by politicians. The themes include the possibility of reduced seating at the Olympics — if any fans at all. Then there will be tests for all athletes, fans and staff. A quarantine-like situation at the Athletes Village may also be seen.
Hours before an online news conference Thursday with Tokyo Olympics spokesman Masa Takaya, Japanese media came out with different versions. But the story was virtually the same citing unnamed sources. Next year’s Olympics will be ‘downsized’, ‘simplified’, or ‘very different’, the stories said.
Slashing of costs
Tokyo CEO Toshiro Muto has been open about slashing costs and ‘reducing service levels’. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, in Thursday newscasts, sounded the same tune.
“We will move ahead with the items that should be streamlined and simplified,” Koike said. She gave no details on the downsizing and added that the public would be consulted. “First of all we need to gain the understanding of Tokyo residents and the Japanese people,” Koike added.
Worry for ticket holders
But in the news conference, Takaya did not substantiate any of the leaked information. He said it did not come directly from him. One typical report said Olympic seating could be reduced. It left in limbo the disposition of millions of tickets already sold.
“We want to brush away these concerns,” Takaya said, speaking to worried ticket holders. However, he offered nothing concrete. He said that ‘countermeasures’ against COVID-19 will not be determined until this fall. That would include plans for fans, quarantines and so forth.
Tickets are going to be a battle ground. The organising committee has budgeted income of at least USD 800 million from ticket sales. It may be reluctant to return it. The tickets carry a ‘force majeure’ clause, which may permit organisers to avoid refunds.
Japan faces recession
Like many countries, Japan is headed into a recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, Olympic costs have soared. The cost of the delay in Japan has been estimated at USD 2 billion to USD 6 billion. Neither the IOC nor organisers have given a figure for the costs to Japan, or who will pay for them.