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Hopes for Tokyo’s Summer Olympics Darken

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Organizers postponed the Olympic Games for one year last March. Nearly a year later, prospects are getting bleaker.

The Olympic rings in Tokyo this week. The Olympic rings in Tokyo this week.Credit…Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters Matthew Futterman

  • Jan. 15, 2021, 2:28 a.m. ET

Plans for the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games are growing more uncertain by the day.

As coronavirus cases rise throughout Japan and in several large countries in Europe and the Americas, officials both in Tokyo and with the International Olympic Committee have begun to acknowledge that holding a safe Games might not be possible, endangering dreams that the Olympics could serve as a global celebration of the end of the pandemic.

Instead, the I.O.C. may be forced to cancel the Olympics for the first time since World War II. That would be a huge financial blow to both the Olympic organization and Japan, which has spent more than $12 billion building stadiums and improving its infrastructure to prepare for the Games, and billions more to delay the event by a year.

For weeks, Japanese and Olympic officials have insisted that the Games will go forward, and that a further delay is not possible. Organizers have been trying to come up with plans to hold the Games in a manner acceptable to the Japanese public, announcing an array of safety measures.

But polls show an increasing wariness. In a survey conducted this month, the Japanese broadcaster NHK found that nearly 80 percent of respondents believed the Games should be postponed or canceled. In October, less than half of respondents said that. The figure rose to 71 percent in December.

On Friday, Taro Kono, a member of Japan’s cabinet, broke with his government’s official line, saying the Games “could go either way,” according to a report by Reuters.

His remarks followed similar comments this week by the Canadian Dick Pound, the longest-serving I.O.C. member, who told the BBC that there was “no guarantee” that the Games would take place.

Organizers in Tokyo and at the I.O.C. agreed in March to postpone the Games for one year. The biennial sports festival, the world’s largest, was supposed to take place last July and August. The opening ceremony for the Summer Games is now scheduled for July 23.

Thomas Bach, the president of the I.O.C., has said that postponing the Games again is not an option, and that if the event cannot take place this summer, it will not happen at all. Toshiro Muto, chief executive of the Tokyo Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, reaffirmed that position this week. The I.O.C. has already awarded the 2024 Summer Games to Paris and the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles.

Hopes for the Games had risen as several major sporting events were held around the world without major problems, albeit on a much smaller scale and with few or no fans in attendance.

For now, Japan is vowing to press ahead with preparations. Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo organizing committee, tried to reassure staff members in a speech on Tuesday.

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