Could the Olympics be canceled due to Japanese state of emergency?
Japanese fans won’t be able to attend the Tokyo Olympics, but the Games are expected to be staged as scheduled.
With COVID-19 cases hitting a two-month high in Tokyo, it comes as no surprise the Japanese government is expected to declare a new state of emergency that will run through the upcoming Summer Olympics.
It seems unlikely the new edict would stop the massive international competition from taking place, but it could force a ban on spectators from most venues.
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“Infections in Tokyo are trending upward, and we will take every necessary measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
Tokyo organizers have already barred foreign spectators with a current, quasi-state of emergency set to expire Sunday. The new edict might run through late August, encompassing the span of the Games from July 23 to Aug. 8.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach seemed unfazed as he spoke to a United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday, his remarks beginning with a reference to the start of the Games “only 16 days from now.”
Bach is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Thursday and quarantine for his first three days in the country. He will attend a meeting where the issue of spectators is expected to be addressed.
Japan ranks 33rd on the list of nations hit hardest by COVID, with 812,069 cases and 14,847 deaths reported since the pandemic began, according to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University. But the country has been slow to react, with only about 15% of citizens fully vaccinated.
According to Kyodo News, coronavirus cases in the Tokyo metropolitan area hit 920 Wednesday, the most since a mid-May peak that exceeded 1,000. Suga met with several ministers from the Japanese government to discuss the situation but had no detailed comments about future plans.
The IOC is motivated to continue with the Games if only because broadcast rights account for 73% of its $5.7 billion in quadrennial revenues. Tokyo organizers, who by some accounts have sunk as much as $25 billion into preparations, are similarly eager to push ahead.
NBC Universal, which holds broadcast rights in the U.S., has done its best to generate enthusiasm for the Games, going primetime with recent American trials in sports such as track, swimming and gymnastics.
If all spectators are barred, there will be some impact on what comes across television screens, but NBC will benefit from lessons learned after months of broadcasting sports from empty arenas and stadiums. U.S. viewers have some experience watching games with artificial crowd noise and none of the usual fan shots.
At a news event last week, NBC producer Rob Hyland spoke about a plan to show competitions with simultaneous video of reactions from family members back home. Athletes might also be shown interacting with family by video in the mixed zone after their events.
“It’s a pretty elaborate plan that we’re calling ‘Friends and Family,’” Hyland said. “What I’m most excited about, I think what we all are, is connecting.”
As for the athletes, many have reacted with typical joy upon making the U.S. team. They seem willing to adjust no matter who — if anyone — is in the stands.
“Of course we want our family and friends there to feel the support,” U.S. soccer player Becky Sauerbrunn said. “But it’s all business for us.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.