Olympic bosses unprepared for potential coronavirus second wave next year despite postponing Tokyo 2020

Public Health England has warned the current coronavirus pandemic could last for 12 months, but Olympic bosses remain unperturbed in pushing forward with their plans to stage the Games exactly one year later than planned

Jack de Menezes
Sports News Correspondent
Friday 03 April 2020 09:09
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games postponed due to coronavirus pandemic

The International Olympic Committee have made locking down the 41 venues for the Tokyo Games their No 1 priority following the year-long postponement, but will not put precautionary measures in place in case of a fresh wave of coronavirus next year.

Tokyo 2020 was one of the last major sporting events this summer to be postponed due to the outbreak of Covid-19, with the IOC announcing a new start date of 23 July 2021 to mirror what was due to take place in under four months’ time.

It has left organisers with “tens of thousands of items that need to be reviewed”, Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi said on Thursday, with the biggest task ensuring that all sporting venues, temporary structures and convention centres due to be used this summer are secured for the two-week event next near.

But these moves follow weeks of reluctance to accept Tokyo 2020’s fate, given both the IOC and Japanese government officials refused to budge in their insistence that the Games would be going ahead as planned only to then bow to pressure and postponement the event by a year. That reluctance, it seems, has remained in place over the fear of a fresh wave of coronavirus next winter could impact the rearranged Games just like it has this year, despite having the opportunity to learn from this unprecedented experience.

Public Health England briefed senior staff at the National Health Service last month that they expect the current coronavirus crisis to continue into the spring of 2021, which could potentially leave athletes due to compete in a similar situation to where they find themselves now: locked down with little-to-no provision to train or travel.

“Let’s not speculate, but I will explain what we do because it’s really important,” Dubi told a conference call on Thursday. “We have an All-Purpose Task Force made of Tokyo 2020, the IOC, and we also have on this task force representatives of the World Health Organisation. We have also representatives of the government of Japan and the Tokyo municipal government helping us to keep a constant appraisal of the situation and how it evolves.

“This group met a lot in the past and will continue to meet probably less frequently but still to keep the pulse on the way the situation is evolving, how all the measures that are taken in various countries are affected, and hopefully we can see the flattening of the curve in Europe and other continents to follow after what has been done obviously in Asia.

“We will continue this work, it is very important because it will give us all the indications for actions in the future – health first, and this is something that we demonstrate through this activity with the APTF.”

This is largely to do with the difficulty in rearranging an event as large as the Olympic Games, with 206 nations and more than 11,000 athletes due to descend on Tokyo before the city then holds the Paralympic Games too – an additional 4,000 competitors – with thousands upon thousands of fans added to the picture.

The first task is to secure housing for the athletes themselves, given the Olympic Village in the Tokyo Bay is due to be sold off to new homeowners this autumn.

“The village is part of the first priority,” added Dubi. “The village is the home away from home, a fantastic development. It is one of the very first tasks to re-secure this fantastic property. Yes, it is absolutely on that urgency list”.

The IOC and Tokyo 2020 have set up the ‘Here We Go’ task force to handle matters of reorganising the Games next year. The Olympics relies on three types of venue: those purpose-built for sport, temporary structures that are utilised solely for the Games, and the large convention centres across Tokyo that will be used to base the IOC, host the media and fulfill other non-competition roles. On top of that, there are the thousands of hotel rooms required to stage an Olympics.

“All of this has to be re-secured for one year later,” Dubi added. “It is a massive undertaking to get back to fundamentals.” He added that the IOC planned to have finalised talks for those “priority” locations in a matter of weeks.

What remains uncertain though is who will foot the bill for the additional costs incurred by postponing the Games. Japan allocated an eye-watering $12.6 billion (£10bn), to which taxpayers contributed the most to, yet with additional costs now predicted to be well in excess of $2bn (£1.6bn), the feeling is that it will once again come down to Japanese residents to cough up the cash.

The IOC would not put a figure on the cost yet with too much still to finalise, with managing director of television and marketing Timo Lumme explaining “we’re only just getting into all of this. However, the governing body initially contributed $1.3bn to the original operating budget, with the rest largely provided by international broadcasters who are understood to have shelled out more than the 73 per cent of the $5.7bn (£4.6m) income the IOC received from the Rio 2016 Games.

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