At the lowest point in May, more than 80 per cent of the Japanese public wanted the upcoming Olympics to be canceled or postponed, almost no one in the country had been vaccinated, and medical experts were lining up to describe the Games as an intolerable Covid-19 risk.
Despite heavy pressure on Tokyo 2020, Japan is not yet close to canceling the Olympics, according to government officials and the organizing committee. Instead, they sought to run the clock and build a sense of inevitability around gaming.
Analysts said this determination to move forward had nothing to do with financial considerations, but instead reflected a mixture of electoral politics, individual competition over China, and pragmatic calculations by Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s prime minister.
There is increasing evidence that Suga’s political judgment was correct. The percentage of the Japanese public wanting to cancel games has fallen to 31 percent, according to a regular NHK poll, and nearly two-thirds said the games should move forward appropriately. spectator limits.
“People are basically becoming resigned to the running games,” said Atsu Ito, a political analyst and former official in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. “If it’s going to happen, so be it.”
For Suga, one simple fact dominates calculations about the Olympics: It’s been four years since Japan’s last general election and he should call again by October 22. to live As party leader, the Liberal Democratic Party must do well in that election.
Many of his allies believe their best bet is successful games. “Suga and the people around him believe that if the Games happened, Olympic fever would take hold,” said Takao Toshikawa, editor of political newsletter Tokyo Insideline. “If there is a rush for the medal for Japan, they will want to call for elections as soon as possible.”
With the Paralympic Games closed on September 5, Suga hopes to go to the public almost immediately afterward and ride in Olympic good sense for another four years in power.
Ito said that some bureaucratic advisers in Suga consider the Olympics an electoral risk, because the surge in coronavirus infections that can be traced to the Games could turn into a devastating scandal.
However, advice from epidemiologists indicated that conducting the games was not that dangerous, not least because 80 percent of those traveling to Japan will be vaccinated. The hand danger It stems from increased local travel and social contact, but Tokyo 2020 organizers hope to control that by limiting the number of spectators at venues.
Revocation raises its own political risks. Suga may get a short-term boost if he is seen as a critical leader protecting the country, but he will then have to run as the man who gave up on the Games after years of effort and trillions of yen in public money.
There are several other political factors influencing the way forward. The Tokyo Games are central to the legacy of Shinzo Abe, Suga’s predecessor as prime minister. Abe remains a powerful LDP broker and Suga needs his support.
Japanese leaders are well aware of this too Beijing will host the Winter Olympics In early 2022. The Triumphant Games in China, held just eight months after the shameful Japanese failure, is a prospect few LDP politicians want to consider.
Suga has been betting for months that sentiment will change when voters receive their Covid vaccines, and after long delays, Japan’s rollout is finally starting to emerge. The country delivers more than 600,000 vaccines a day and aims to reach 1 million this month. About 30 percent to 40 percent of the country will have had at least one dose by the time the Games begin.
One popular theory in Japan is that the International Olympic Committee forced the country to host the Games. “We’ve been trapped in a situation where we can’t even stop,” Kaori Yamaguchi said:, a former judo champion and executive member of the Japan Olympic Committee, this month.
But lawyers said the IOC has limited leverage, because Japan has relatively little to lose financially from cancellation. “Most of the money that Japan put in was actually spent on infrastructure, hotels, Olympic Village and things like that,” said Erwin Kishner, sports attorney at Herrick, Feinstein in New York.
After delaying last year, Japan no longer expects much revenue from Tokyo 2020, and will lose most of the rest if it chooses to limit spectator numbers and Ticket sales refund.
On the other hand, the IOC is still in the process of realizing full revenue from broadcasting rights and direct sponsors, which explains its strong insistence that the Games should continue “with the exception of Armageddon” and even if Tokyo remains in a state of emergency. .
While Tokyo 2020 organizers have no contractual right to cancel, the IOC will have little recourse if Japan simply closes its borders and makes it impossible to hold the Games.
“How will the IOC go after the Japanese government?” asked Nick White, sports attorney at Charles Russell Speechlys in London. “Even if I find a way to sue them, I think any court in their right mind would say the government has the right to impose restrictions on public health grounds.”
Fortunately for the International Olympic Committee, the interests of the Japanese prime minister align with theirs. Unless the coronavirus situation deteriorates significantly over the next few weeks, the Olympic cauldron in Tokyo will be lit on July 23.