Summer Olympics in 2021? ‘Exceedingly Difficult’ Without a Coronavirus Vaccine

The Tokyo Olympics Are 14 Months Away. Is That Enough Time?

The Tokyo Olympics Are 14 Months Away. Is That Enough Time?

The Tokyo Olympics Are 14 Months Away. Is That Enough Time?

In that time, one thing has become clear: The Tokyo Games will happen in July and August of 2021 or they will not happen at all. A spokesman for the Tokyo Games said in April that there was no “B Plan.” Thomas Bach, the president of the I.O.C., reiterated that point this week: Either the Olympics open on July 23, with the Paralympics to follow on Aug. 24, or they will be canceled.

By necessity, nearly everything else is up in the air.

Fans or no fans? When and how will athletes continue the process of qualifying for the Games? Can they be kept healthy while they are in Tokyo? What will the Olympics look like given that the delay is costing organizers billions of dollars?

“This situation requires compromises and sacrifices by everybody,” Mr. Bach said in a conference call last week. “We are leaving no stone unturned to reduce the cost while maintaining the spirit of the Games and the quality of the sports competition. There are no taboos.”

Though 14 months may sound like a long time to some, the timeline provides little comfort in Japan, where the coronavirus continues to upend daily life, or for the Olympic organizers tasked with pushing back competitions, thousands of hotel reservations and the finishing touches of venue construction during an unpredictable pandemic.

“The efforts are monumental,” said Christophe Dubi, the I.O.C.’s sports director.

Toshiro Muto, the chief executive of the local organizing committee for the Tokyo Olympics, said earlier this month: “All of us are committed to having the Games next July. All we are doing is to prepare the best we can to actually have the Games.”

The wild card is the course of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Sports are creeping back to life in various countries, and athletes are beginning to train in earnest again. But many borders are still closed, and the international athletic calendar remains a question mark, even as championships in golf, tennis and other global sports have been rescheduled for late summer and into the fall.

There are kernels of optimism as researchers edge closer to a vaccine, but one is not expected to be available until early next year, at best, and no one is ready to guarantee that an event as large and unwieldy as an Olympic Games will take place.

At this point, there is no exact deadline to decide firmly whether the Games will go forward or be scrapped.

Asked recently whether he thought the rescheduled Tokyo Games would be held as planned, Dr. Jonathan Finnoff, the chief medical officer for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said: “We are moving full speed ahead with plans for the Tokyo 2021 Games, and I am very hopeful and optimistic we will have the appropriate infection mitigation process in place, whether it is a vaccine or a cure or a low enough community transmission, or an ability to prevent or detect transmission.”

However, Dr. Finnoff, who is not an infectious diseases specialist, was also optimistic in early March, a few weeks before the Olympic postponement, that the Tokyo Games would happen this summer.

Michael Lynch, a former director of global sponsorship marketing for Visa who now consults with Olympic sponsors, said the I.O.C. and Tokyo organizers would have the advantage of watching during the next few months as other sports attempt to come back amid concerns about the coronavirus.

“We’re going to learn so much more as to how these events are going to happen,” Mr. Lynch said.

If the Tokyo Games do happen, they will be even more costly. Estimates for the cost of the delay have ranged from $2 billion to $6 billion. The I.O.C. last week committed $650 million to help cover the costs, after a financial dispute in April between the organization and its partners in Japan.

After the announcement of the contribution, Mr. Muto declined to say whether the $650 million would be sufficient.

“The discussion and debate will continue, and the Japan side will make sure that our voices are heard,” Mr. Muto said.

Mr. Muto said the organizing committee was not considering a cancellation of the Games should the pandemic continue to wreak havoc on international travel or athletes’ practice schedules, but he said the event might not look like a traditional Olympics.

“It’s time for all of us to review what are the essential things for those Games and what are the must-have items,” Mr. Muto said. “We might come up with a new Olympic and Paralympic Games that are unique to Tokyo, but exactly how that is going to be, I can’t give you the details.”

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