There is the official Japanese discourse and the sceptics. Among them is Keith Mills, deputy president of the organising committee of the London Olympics, which took place in 2012. For Keith Mills, the holding of the Olympics next summer seems to be getting further and further away. « Personally, from where I am, seeing the epidemic in the world, in South America, North America, Africa, Europe, it seems unlikely, » he told the BBC on Tuesday 19 January.
An inflexible course for the organisers
However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese Olympic Committee remain committed to organising them. Planned for 2020, the Olympics have been postponed to 2021. « The holding of the Games is our inflexible course and, at this stage, we are not discussing anything else, » said Mr Muto, the director general of the organising committee, in an interview with AFP on Tuesday 19 January.
« Obviously, the conditions to be put in place will be very important, » Mr Muto conceded. He added: « It goes without saying that we need the understanding and support of the population. We want to prepare the Games based on these principles. »
Concerned that the event could further aggravate the local spread of Covid-19, more than 80% of the Japanese are now very reluctant to organise the Olympics this year, preferring either a further postponement or outright cancellation, according to a recent poll. Faced with record cases of coronavirus, a state of emergency was reinstated this month in much of Japan, including Tokyo and its suburbs, as it was in the spring of 2020.
Will the public be able to come in large numbers?
Many questions about the Olympics remain unanswered, however, including the number of spectators allowed to enter the country. A decision will be taken in the coming months. « It is not desirable that there should be no fans in the stands, » says Mr Muto, although he cannot guarantee the presence of spectators, particularly from abroad, for the moment.
« I have the impression, from my discussions with the IOC a few days ago, that everything has been thought out, imagined to be able to adapt according to the health context, to find the solution so that the Games can take place, with more or less spectators, it could even be behind closed doors if ever the health conditions impose it, but the will is very strong to maintain this event, » declared Tony Estanguet, President of the Organising Committee of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, on Wednesday 20 January.
Last December, the Tokyo 2020 organising committee unveiled a battery of countermeasures against the coronavirus, which are supposed to allow the event to take place safely this summer, even if vaccination is not generalised and if the pandemic is not under control by then.
In Japan, the vaccination campaign should start by the end of February and will not be extended to the entire population before May, according to several local media. Japanese organisers and International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials have not yet discussed the possibility of making vaccination compulsory for athletes and spectators at the Olympics. Already, the organisation has announced that the opening and closing ceremonies will be held with far fewer athletes than usual.
Last week, an influential Japanese minister, Taro Kono, said last week that the possibility of an Olympic Games should not be ruled out. And this weekend, a former IOC vice-president, Kevan Gosper, even suggested that the United Nations be consulted on whether or not to hold the event this year.