Tokyo Olympics: Why doesn’t Japan cancel the Games?

People stage a demonstration in Tokyo this week, demanding the Olympics be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: AFP

The Tokyo Olympics are now just over two months away and calls to ditch the Games in the face of the pandemic are getting louder by the day.

So why isn’t Japan talking about cancelling the Games? The answer as it turns out, is not that simple.

The situation is not looking great in Japan.

A coronavirus state of emergency has been extended in the capital, Tokyo, and three other major prefectures as cases continue to rise.

Yet there’s been no word about cancelling the Games, despite both health experts and public opinion being stacked against them.

Current polls in Japan show nearly 70 percent of the population do not want the Olympics to go ahead, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) remains steadfast that the spectacle will take place.

Japan has long insisted there was no question the Olympics, which should have taken place last summer, would be held and will be safe.

Yet earlier this week, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for the first time appeared to bow to the pressure of public opinion, saying that the government would “not put the Olympics first” – but adding that ultimately, the decision would lie with the IOC.

Decision rests solely with IOC

The contract between the IOC and host city Tokyo is straightforward: There’s one article regarding cancellation and it only gives the option for the IOC to cancel, not for the host city.

That’s because the Olympic Games are the “exclusive property” of the IOC, international sports lawyer Alexandre Miguel Mestre said. And as the “owner” of the Games, it is the IOC that can terminate the contract.

One reason given to justify a cancellation – aside from things like war or civil disorder – is that if “the IOC has reasonable grounds to believe, in its sole discretion, that the safety of participants in the Games would be seriously threatened or jeopardised for any reason whatsoever”. Arguably, the pandemic could be seen as such a threat.

The Olympic charter also stipulates that the IOC should ensure “the health of the athletes” and promote “safe sports”, Mestre said, but despite all this, the IOC seems determined to go ahead.

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