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Tokyo Olympic Games: When are they and will they go ahead?

The Tokyo Olympics are due to start in less than two months, despite a surge of Covid cases in Japan.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) insists the games will go ahead, even though Tokyo is currently under a state of emergency.

When and where are the Olympics?

The 2020 Summer Olympic Games are scheduled to take place in the Japanese capital, Tokyo, between 23 July and 8 August 2021.

They were postponed – like many other events – because of Covid.

The Paralympics Games are due to take place between 24 August and 5 September.

The main Games involve 33 competitions and 339 events held across 42 venues. The Paralympic Games feature 539 events across 22 sports hosted at 21 venues.

Most events will be held in the Greater Tokyo area. Some football games and the marathon are due to take place in Sapporo in Hokkaido, which is also currently under a state of emergency.

What’s happening with Covid in Japan?

Japan has had relatively low numbers of Covid cases, but a new wave of infections began in April. Since last year there have been around 720,000 cases and 12,200 deaths.

As a result of the surge, large parts of the country are under a state of emergency until the end of May, with some areas facing restrictions until 20 June.

Japan only began vaccinating people in February, later than most other developed nations.

A mass vaccination programme began in late May in Tokyo and Osaka, the two cities hit hardest by the surge. Authorities hope those aged 65 and above will be fully vaccinated by the end of July.

image copyrightReuters

image captionMass vaccinations have only just started in Japan

What Covid measures are in place for the Games?

Japan’s borders are shut to foreigners due to the virus, which means no international fans can travel to the games.

Domestic spectators will be allowed, though it’s possible a worsening Covid situation could mean competitions go ahead without any audience.

International athletes and support staff will have to be tested before departure and on arrival in Japan.

They won’t have to quarantine, but will have to stay in bubbles and avoid mixing with locals.

Athletes also don’t have to vaccinated, though IOC officials expect around 80% will be. They will be tested daily throughout the games.

Do people in Japan want the games to go ahead?

Several towns which were set to host the athletes across the Tokyo region have reportedly pulled out for fear the programme might add to the spread of Covid and put pressure on the healthcare system.

Earlier in May, a doctors union told the government that it was “impossible” to hold the Games, given the pandemic.

One of Japan’s most prominent business tycoons has also criticised the decision to continue with the Games.

In a tweet which went viral, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said that most people wanted the Olympics “to be postponed or cancelled”, asking “on what authority is it being forced through?”

In late May, the leading Asahi Shimbun newspaper also called for the Games to be cancelled.

What have athletes’ representatives said?

A number of bodies and experts have expressed concern about the Games.

The World Players Association – which represents 85,000 sportsmen and women in over 60 countries – has said that the IOC must do more to ensure athletes’ safety. It wants more precise physical distancing measures – and more rigorous and effective testing.

It also wants the IOC to revoke its demand that athletes sign waivers as a condition of participation.

Japanese athletes have largely kept a low profile, but the country’s biggest sports star, tennis champion Naomi Osaka, said there should be a debate over the issue.

media caption‘If people are not feeling safe, then it’s a really big cause for concern’

Jules Boykoff, author of Olympians and Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics, wrote an article in the New York Times calling for the Games’ cancellation.

“A sports event shouldn’t be a #COVID19 superspreader,” he argues. “Public health is more important than economic profit.”

What have other countries said about taking part?

No major countries have spoken out against the Games.

The US issued a travel warning for Japan following the surge, but officials say they are confident their athletes will still take part.

Team GB remains “fully committed to sending our full team to the Tokyo Olympic Games”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has also pledged his support. China is due to host the next Winter Games in February 2022.

Could the Olympics be cancelled?

Yes, but normally only under very exceptional circumstances like war or civil disorder.

Importantly, the contract between the IOC and host city Tokyo makes it clear that only the IOC can cancel the event.

The IOC is thought to make around 70% of its money from broadcast rights, and around 18% from sponsorship. If the Games don’t go ahead, it could severely damage the IOC’s finances, and the future of the Olympic movement.

Given that the IOC has repeatedly insisted the Games can go ahead safely, even under a state of emergency, it seems there’s little chance of it deciding to pull the plug.

image copyrightPhotoshot

image captionMany people in Japan are against the Olympics

If Tokyo was to break the contract and cancel against the will of the IOC, the risks and losses would fall on the Japanese side.

The budget for Tokyo 2020 was set at $12.6bn (£8.9bn), although it’s been reported that the actual cost could be double that.

Even though all sides involved in the Olympics are heavily insured, losses if the Games don’t go ahead would still be high.

The postponement and the lack of international fans have already dented the expected profits of a normal Olympics for both the host country and the IOC.

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