TOKYO (Reuters) - With just over four months left to the July 24 opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, organizers say events will go ahead as planned. But the situation is fluid and filled with unknowns, experts say.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gambled his legacy as the longest-serving Japanese leader on a successful Games, with Japan investing at least $12 billion in the hopes of a massive boost to the economy.
The Games have a record $3 billion in sponsorship, which doesn’t include separate deals between the International Olympic Committee and individual companies, likely worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Media giant NBCUniversal has sold $1 billion in sponsorship and is on track to surpass $1.2 billion.
IOC President Thomas Bach has said he is confident the Games will start on time. Tokyo 2020 head Yoshiro Mori - while insisting there would be no changes - said last week that organizers had to address the situation in a flexible manner.
Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto sparked concerns about a delay when she said Tokyo’s contract with the IOC could “be interpreted as allowing a postponement” until the end of the year - remarks she privately said had been taken out of context.
The participation of children from Japan in the torch handover ceremony in Greece was scratched just weeks before it was to begin. Organizers will decide on torch relay celebrations in Japan a week before the torch arrives in each location.
Test and qualifying match plans have also shifted.
“It is a puzzle you have to bring together,” a source within the Olympic movement told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “Teams, athletes, qualifications and new countries with the virus every day. Plans sometimes need to be changed again and then again.”
Though a candidate to be mayor of London said the 2012 Summer Games host could take over if needed, experts dismissed the possibility because of impossible logistics and no guarantee on the virus.
“If you’re cancelling in Tokyo because the epidemic is still a major threat, it’s not going to be any less of a threat in London or Los Angeles,” said Neal Pilson, the former head of CBS Sports who was involved in broadcast rights negotiations for three Olympics.
Later in 2020 is also impossible because of packed U.S. and European sports schedules, which precluded holding the Tokyo Games in more seasonal October.
Pushing the Games back by a year, to the same time period in 2021, presents huge logistical challenges but does fall into broadcasters’ open schedules, Pilson said. It also allows athletes who have a short window for career success a chance to compete sooner rather than waiting four years.
Cancellation is the most drastic step but would minimize logistical issues. The Summer Games have been canceled three times before, all for war - including the 1940 Games, set for Tokyo.
Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann in Lausanne. Editing by Gerry Doyle