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From the start, climbing’s journey to the Olympics has been a rollercoaster. The sport was initially turned down for the 2020 Tokyo Games in 2013. Climbers received a second chance when a new program allowed the host country to add new sports with broad local and international appeal. Twenty-six sports applied. Climbing was accepted along with just four other events. In 2019, building on the momentum, the Olympic Committee voted unanimously to include climbing in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Then the pandemic struck and the 2020 games were postponed to 2021. This month a series of articles cast doubt that the games will take place at all.
First, on January 11, the Associated Press reported that “80% of the people in Japan say the Tokyo Olympics should be canceled or postponed, or say they believe the Olympics will not take place.” The statistics come from two polls that were conducted by the Japanese news agency Kyodo and TBS, the Tokyo Broadcasting System. The results were released four days after the Tokyo area was placed on lockdown due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Japan is not expected to begin vaccinating residents until late-February. The government had planned to finish vaccinating the country’s 126 million people a month ahead of the games, but have since walked back the goal.
Then last week, Keith Mills, the deputy chairman of the London organizing committee for the 2012 Olympic Games, told BBC Radio Five Live that he expected that the games would be cancelled.
“Sitting here and looking at the pandemic around the world, in South America, in North America, in Africa and across Europe, it looks unlikely,” he said. “If I was sitting in the shoes of the organizing committee in Tokyo, I would be making plans for a cancellation and I’m sure they have plans for a cancellation. I think they will leave it until absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically, in case the vaccinations roll out faster than we all hope.”
Finally, and most prominently, the British newspaper The Times cited an anonymous source claiming that Japanese officials have already decided to call off the games.
“The Japanese government has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus, and the focus is now on securing the Games for the city in the next available year, 2032,” the story read. “According to a senior member of the ruling coalition, there is agreement that the Games, already postponed a year, are doomed. The aim now is to find a face-saving way of announcing the cancellation that leaves open the possibility of Tokyo playing host at a later date. ‘No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,’ the source said. ‘Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.'”
To date, the International Olympic Committee has said the games will continue as scheduled. In a statement, they called the Times story “categorically untrue.” They wrote:
“Some news reports circulating today are claiming that the Government of Japan has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus. This is categorically untrue.
“At an IOC Executive Board meeting in July last year, it was agreed that the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would be held on July 23 this year, and the programme and venues for the Games were rescheduled accordingly. All parties involved are working together to prepare for a successful Games this summer.
“We will be implementing all possible countermeasures against COVID-19 and will continue to work closely with the IOC, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in our preparations for holding a safe and secure Games this summer.”
Together with its Japanese partners and friends, the IOC is fully concentrated on and committed to the successful delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 this year.
IOC chief Thomas Bach told Kyodo News that “We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo. This is why there is no plan B and this is why we are fully committed to make these games safe and successful.”
The IOC is expected to announce the COVID-19 safety measures that will be employed for the 2020 games early this year, and a decision regarding whether or not spectators will be allowed to attend will be announced by the end of spring.
Update 1/29: According to Al Jazeera, the Olympic Organizing Committee has said: “We are not willing to see the Games without spectators. Tokyo 2020 is making efforts to accommodate spectators as much as possible, while implementing thorough measures to prevent infection … the upper limit on the number of spectators will be in line with the limits in force in Japan at the time.”
The Olympic Torch Relay is scheduled to begin on March 25, and the Games will be held from July 23 to August 8.