— Published 20 January 2021

“The Tokyo Games seem improbable to me”

In the world before, the date would have been celebrated with a mixture of impatience and glee. On Saturday 23rd January, the countdown will mark D-6 months before the opening of the Tokyo Games. But, unsurprisingly, the Japanese have not planned the slightest initiative to mark the occasion.

We understand them. 184 days before the opening ceremony, this Wednesday, January 20th, the polls are no longer the only indicators of the doubts surrounding the Olympic and Paralympic event. Abroad, the speech of confidence served by the IOC is no longer enough to silence skeptics.

Example: Keith Mills. The former vice-president of the London 2012 Games organising committee does not hide the fact that he no longer really believes in the reality of the Tokyo Games in 2021. He explained it bluntly, earlier this week, in an interview on BBC Radio 5.

When I see the evolution of the pandemic around the world, whether in South America, North America and Europe, the Tokyo Games seem improbable to me“, admitted the British businessman, today He is 70 years old. “If I were in the shoes of the Japanese organisers, among all the scenarios on the table, I would add one concerning the cancellation. And I’m sure they have a cancellation plan. But this is a decision that would only be made at the last minute. We will have to see how the health situation in the world evolves, to see if we can have vaccines more quickly. But I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes. A cancellation would be dramatic“.

Keith Mills insists that the Games will not only depend on the health situation in Japan, where the state of emergency imposed by the authorities until February 7 concerns 11 prefectures. “It is not just the infections in Tokyo, but also those in all the nations involved“, he suggests. “The challenge is whether enough competitors and countries will be able to travel to Japan for a viable and credible Olympics“.

In Japan, the scenario of a cancellation was never even mentioned, according to official sources. Masa Takaya, the spokesperson for the organising committee, dismissed him bluntly last week. He reiterated that the issue of a further postponement, or even a cancellation, had never been discussed.

Hard to believe. But Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, readily sits on the optimistic side. Asked to react to the words of his former second at the time of the London 2012 Games, he repeated his confidence.

I don’t think the Games will be canceled”, he told Sky News. “It’s going to be a challenge, we all know that, and it is obvious that there will be adaptations. But of all the countries on the planet, Japan is certainly the most likely to see it through. I wake up in the morning, as president of an international federation, relieved that this problem has to be addressed by Japan and not by any other country in the world. Logistical issues will be a challenge, especially in the Athletes’ Village, when thousands of people will want to eat at the same time. For the competitors, the experience will be different. But I think the Games will take place. They will be different but they will take place“.

In Japan, the subject divides opinion. Abroad, it is now also debated. Keith Mills will surely not be the last to express his doubts. And Sebastian Coe to be reassuring.