Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga began 2021 promising that the delayed Tokyo Olympics would go ahead in July, even as Japan contends with a surge in coronavirus cases and the rising cost of an event that is becoming increasingly unpopular with the public.
‘The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held this summer,’ Suga said in a written statement for the New Year, describing the event as a symbol of world unity. ‘We will make steady preparations to realise a safe and secure tournament.’
Japan and the International Olympic Committee decided last March to postpone the Games by a year as the coronavirus pandemic sent much of the world into lockdown.
The games, involving some 11 000 athletes from around the world, are now due to take place across two weeks from 23 July, with the Paralympics to follow afterwards. The event’s budget has increased by about $2.4bn as a result of the delay, organisers said in December, bringing the total to more than $15bn.
IOC president Thomas Bach, who visited Japan in November, reiterated the IOC’s commitment to the Games in a video to mark the start of the New Year, noting that Tokyo was the ‘best prepared’ Olympic city ever.
‘These Olympic Games will be the light at the end of the tunnel,’ Bach said. ‘They will be a celebration of solidarity, of the unity of humankind in all our diversity, and of resilience.’
In Japan, however, public opinion also appears to be turning against the event.
A survey published by public broadcaster NHK in December found only 27 percent of people wanted the games to go ahead, compared with 40 percent in October. The proportion preferring cancellation rose to 32 percent, compared with 23 percent in October. The remainder wanted another postponement, but the IOC has ruled that out.