Uncertainty grips next year’s postponed Tokyo Olympics: Will there be fans or empty stadiums in 14 months? And how will thousands of athletes, staff, and technical officials travel, be housed, and stay safe amid COVID-19?
And Tokyo is not alone. China — where the COVID-19 outbreak was first detected — will hold three mega-sports events within a year after Tokyo is set to close, said an AP report.
The World University Games in Chengdu in western China open 10 days after the Tokyo Games close, with up to 8,000 athletes. Next come the Beijing Winter Olympics beginning on Feb. 4, 2022, and the Asian Games in Hangzhou starting on Sept. 10.
The previous edition of the Asian Games in Indonesia drew 11,000 athletes and featured more sports than the Olympics.
A fourth major event, soccer’s 24-team Club World Championship, was to open in China in June of 2021, but has been postponed because of scheduling conflicts created by the pandemic.
China is a go-to country for these mega events, through expertise gained from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and because it absorbs the massive costs. It spent at least $40 billion to organize the 2008 Olympics.
Japanese and International Olympic Committee officials have given few details about how the Tokyo Olympics will be staged, the cost of postponement, and who will pay for it. They’ve teased the problems and floated tenuous solutions. They’ve agreed on one thing: If the games can’t open on July 23, 2021, they’ll be canceled.
In a joint news conference last weekend, the director general of the World Health Organization cautioned it would not be “easy” to make the Olympics a safe global gathering spot.
But Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed confidence: “I think it’s possible,” IOC President Thomas Bach has been cautious in speculating how the Olympics can be held.
He’s suggested a possible quarantine for athletes, hinted at limited fan access to venues, and has not ruled out events in empty stadiums. Of course, he says that’s not his preference.
IOC member John Coates, who oversees preparations for Tokyo, has been direct.
“We’ve got real problems because we’ve got athletes having to come from 206 different nations,” Coates said, speaking at a News Corp Australia digital forum and reported in The Australian newspaper. “We’ve got 11,000 athletes coming, 5,000 technical officials and coaches, 20,000 media.” There’s also about 4,000 working on the organizing committee and an expected 60,000 volunteers.”
Some scientists in Japan and elsewhere believe a vaccine is needed to guarantee safety for athletes. But some have asked if young, healthy athletes should be a priority for vaccination.
The biggest challenge might be guaranteeing the safety of fans who have already bought millions of tickets. If there are no fans, will there be refunds? Will there be lawsuits? Tickets provide at least $800 million income for local organizers with the added cost of postponement estimated in Japan at $2 billion to $6 billion.
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