When members of the International Olympic Committee’s executive board dial in to their first video conference of the year on Wednesday, they will do so amid mounting uncertainty over this summer’s delayed Tokyo Games.
Last year’s unprecedented postponement was arguably the biggest peacetime decision ever taken in sport. But that would be completely overshadowed by an actual cancellation.
Such a seismic move would have profound consequences for Olympic and Paralympic sport, and be a crushing disappointment for athletes across the world, so what forces could prove decisive over the coming weeks?
So far, Japan has escaped the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, with far fewer deaths than the tragic numbers suffered in other parts of the world.
But once a state of emergency was declared in its capital two weeks ago following a record number of cases, and with public opinion appearing to turn against the Games, the sense of crisis intensified.
Olympic legend Sir Matthew Pinsent became the highest-profile former athlete to call for a cancellation, saying the idea of thousands of people flying round the world to gather, unvaccinated, in one place, was “ludicrous”. Tokyo, he suggested, should stage the Games in 2024 instead, with subsequent hosts Paris and Los Angeles both shifted back four years to accommodate the rejig.
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With worries that the Games could worsen the country’s pandemic, Taro Kono then became the first Japanese cabinet minister to break ranks, admitting “anything could happen”, a message reinforced by senior IOC member Dick Pound, who said he too could not be certain it would go ahead.
Former London 2012 boss Sir Keith Mills added his voice, telling BBC Radio 5 Live that he believed the Olympics were now “unlikely” to be staged this year.
The doubts swirling round Tokyo 2021 reached a new peak last week when the Times reported that, according to an unnamed Japanese government source, ministers had privately conceded the event would have to be cancelled, and they would now focus on securing the next available slot in 2032.