Will the Tokyo Olympic Games be canceled at the last minute?

( Joel Marklund/OIS/IOC via AP)

The 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo are scheduled to kick off in roughly ten weeks. If that sounds odd as you look at your calendar it’s because they were postponed last summer due to the pandemic. Now the organizers and the IOC are having flashbacks to that disruption yet again. The President of the International Olympic Committee was scheduled to arrive in Japan one week from today to greet the torch relay team and then tour the facilities in Tokyo, but that trip has now been canceled because the country’s state of emergency has been extended through the end of this month. And just like last year, the reason is the pandemic. (NY Post)

IOC President Thomas Bach has canceled a trip to Japan because of surging cases of COVID-19 in the country, the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee said Monday in a statement.

Bach was to visit Hiroshima next Monday and meet the torch relay and then probably travel to Tokyo.

Organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto said last week that the trip would be “tough” for Bach to make, which was interpreted in Japan as meaning it was canceled.

Technically the IOC trip wasn’t really canceled so much as it was “postponed.” Bach is saying that he still plans to go “as soon as possible” but if Japan doesn’t get the latest surge of COVID cases under control, who knows when that’s going to be?

The country is up to 11,000 COVID deaths thus far and recent reports indicate that the new caseload is reaching the point where some hospitals are under significant pressure to keep up. They’re currently back up to more than 4,000 new cases per day, higher than at any point since the second week of January. As recently as March 8, Japan was down to around 600 cases per day and it was looking like they might have things under control, but they are reporting several new variants of the virus in the past few weeks.

Meanwhile, this is creating a political nightmare for the Prime Minister and his administration. Public polling continues to show that 60-80 percent of Japan’s citizens are opposed to moving forward with the games and do not believe they can be held safely. A petition calling for the games to be canceled gained more than 300,000 signatures in three days last week. Yukio Edano, the leader of the primary opposition party in the country released a statement today saying that holding the games safely was “impossible” at this point. Another leader from that party accused Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of placing more emphasis on the Olympics than keeping his citizens safe.

As we’ve discussed here previously, there is already talk of major countries boycotting the Winter Olympics in China next year. I’m not sure how many more times Japan can postpone these games before the wheels come off. At this point, we really should be wondering if all the fuss and bother of holding these games is worth it in the midst of a global crisis and a world that frequently seems as if it’s going mad. In the past, I’ve suggested keeping the Olympics permanently in Greece rather than keeping up this globetrotting routine. Of course, at the current moment, Greece isn’t doing all that well with COVID either. Perhaps a few years without holding them at all might be in order until we see how all of this plays out.