Tokyo Olympics in doubt without travel deal, says governor

The governor of Tokyo has questioned whether the Olympic Games can go ahead next year without an international deal on travel and quarantine. She has also called for possible cuts to the opening and closing ceremonies.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Yuriko Koike said that freedom for athletes and supporters to visit Japan was a precondition for holding Tokyo 2021.

Her remarks show how the Tokyo Olympics remain in jeopardy despite a one-year postponement, especially considering the looming danger of a second wave of Covid-19, and the limited time before critical decisions must be made.

In April, a spokesman for the Tokyo Olympics told reporters that if the games did not take place as scheduled in 2021, there was “no plan B” for any further delay.

“A basic precondition for the Olympics is that the people of the world can come,” Ms Koike said in an interview at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building — a skyscraper that is bathed in red light at night to warn citizens that the city remains on high alert.

At present, foreigners who have visited 111 different countries are banned from entry to Japan. Without an international deal to let athletes and spectators from all 206 competing nations attend, some events would lack their strongest competitors or most passionate fans.

Asked whether the Tokyo Olympics were certain to go ahead, Ms Koike would say only that they were “a hope” in dark times, and that she wanted to continue with preparations.

Delaying the event by a year will cost billions of dollars and Ms Koike called for cutbacks to help pay the bill. “For example, the opening and closing ceremonies are part of the pleasure of the games but they could be simplified or rationalised,” she said.

The opening ceremony is one of the most symbolic moments of the games and so the governor’s comments suggest a tough negotiation process is under way with sponsors, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the International Olympic Committee over money.

“The costs of the extension aren’t just a matter for Tokyo, but for the national government, the IOC and the IPC. We all need to discuss this more. We will also need the support of the people of Tokyo,” she said.

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Tokyo organisers have already been warned by the IOC that they would need to consider plans for a “very different” games if the pandemic was not under control worldwide. That could include limits to spectator numbers.

Ms Koike’s term as governor expires next month and the upcoming Olympics would have been the backdrop to her re-election campaign. Although she has not yet declared her candidacy, she is a strong favourite to win another four years, having played a prominent role in Japan’s response to Covid-19.

The governor said she was inspired by one of her predecessors, Shinpei Goto, who planned large parts of Tokyo and quarantined more than 200,000 soldiers returning from the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 to prevent the spread of cholera.

“To have those grand designs, but also that sense of risk control and management — it’s important to learn from history,” she said.