At the lowest point in May, more than 80 percent of the Japanese public wanted the next Olympics to be canceled or postponed, almost no one in the country was vaccinated and medical experts had lined up to call the games an intolerable risk of Covid-19.
Despite intense pressure on Tokyo 2020, Japan has yet to come close to canceling the Olympics, according to the government and organizing committees. Instead, they tried to escape the day and build a sense of inevitability around the games.
This determination to move forward has nothing to do with financial considerations, analysts said, but instead reflects a mix of electoral policies, supremacy for China and practical calculations by Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s prime minister.
There are growing signs that Suga’s political judgment was correct. The percentage of the Japanese public who want games to be canceled has dropped to 31 percent, according to the NHK’s regular poll, and nearly two-thirds said games should go ahead. limits to spectators.
“People become basically resigned to the games that are taking place,” said Atsuo Ito, political analyst and former official of the Liberal Democratic Party. “If it happens, then so be it.”
For Suga, a simple fact dominates the calculations over the Olympics: it is four years since Japan’s last general election and he must call another one by October 22nd. For him to live as party leader, the LDP must do well in those elections.
Many of his allies believe that his best bet is a successful game. “Suga and the people around him think that if the games happen then the Olympic fever will set in,” said Takao Toshikawa, editor of the Tokyo Insideline political newsletter. “If there is a race for medals for Japan then they will call elections as soon as possible.”
With the Paralympics closing on September 5, Suga hopes to go to the public almost immediately afterwards and lead a sensible Olympic factor to another four years in power.
Some Suga bureaucratic advisers consider holding the Olympics as an electoral risk, Ito said, because a large increase in coronavirus infections traceable to gambling could become a damaging scandal.
However, the advice of epidemiologists has suggested that just playing games was not so dangerous, not least because 80 percent of those traveling to Japan will be vaccinated. U danger of hand born from an increase in national travel and social contact, but the organizers of Tokyo 2020 hope to control this by limiting the number of spectators at the venues.
The cancellation increases its political risks. Suga could get a short-term push if he was seen as a decisive leader protecting the country, but he would then have to contest the election as the man who left the games after years of effort and trillions of yen. in public money.
Many other political factors weigh in favor of moving forward. The Tokyo Games are central to the legacy of Shinzo Abe, Suga’s predecessor as prime minister. Abe is still a powerful player in the LDP and Suga needs his support.
Japanese leaders are also very aware of that Beijing will host the Winter Olympics at the beginning of 2022. A triumphant game in China, held just eight months after a fiery Japanese fiasco, is a prospect that few LDP politicians want to contemplate.
Suga has speculated for months and months that sentiment will change when voters receive their Covid vaccinations, and after long delays, Japan’s implementation is finally in rhythm. The country supplies more than 600,000 vaccines a day and aims to reach 1m this month. About 30 percent to 40 percent of the country will have had at least one dose since the games began.
A common theory in Japan is that the country is required by the International Olympic Committee to host the games. “We were stuck in a situation where we couldn’t even stop,” said Kaori Yamaguchi, former judo champion and executive member of the Japanese Olympic Committee, this month.
But lawyers said the CIO had limited influence, because Japan had relatively little to lose financially from a cancellation. “Most of the money that Japan has put in has already been spent on infrastructure, hotels, the Olympic Village and things like that,” said Irwin Kishner, a sports lawyer in Herrick, Feinstein in New York.
After last year’s delay, Japan is no longer expecting much revenue from Tokyo 2020, and will lose most of what remains if it decides to limit the number of spectators and reimburse ticket sales.
The CIO, on the other hand, is still in line for the full revenues of its broadcasting rights and direct sponsors, which explains its strident insistence that games should go ahead “excluding Armageddon” and even if Tokyo remains under to a state of emergency Covid.
While the organizers of Tokyo 2020 have no contractual right to cancel, the CIO would have little recourse if Japan just closed its borders and made it impossible for the games to take place.
“How would the CIO prosecute the Japanese government?” asked Nick White, sports lawyer at Charles Russell Speechlys in London. “Even if he finds a way to denounce them, I think any court would rightly say that a government has the right to impose restrictions on public health grounds.”
Fortunately for the CIO, Japan’s prime minister’s interests have aligned with his own. Unless the coronavirus situation deteriorates significantly over the next few weeks, the Olympic cauldron will be lit up in Tokyo on July 23rd.