Olympic organisers hope the Covid-19 vaccine will mean the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Games can take place in July - despite a newspaper report on Friday casting doubt on their going ahead.
Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshiro Muto said: “There’s no doubt [widespread vaccinations in the US and Europe] will have a positive effect.
“But it doesn’t solve everything.”
He told Reuters: “We are hopeful about the vaccines but, at the same time, I think it is inappropriate to be totally dependent on it.”
Muto’s interview with the news agency occurred before the Times report was published.
In response to that article, Tokyo 2020 organisers released a statement declaring that Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga had “expressed his determination” to hold the Olympics and Paralympics and that all stakeholders remained focused of delivering the event.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said the suggestion in the Times report that the Games would be cancelled was “categorically untrue”.
It added: “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 23 July 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.”
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said that “with the robust measures and plans we have in place, the Games can and will go ahead safely”. The Paralympics begin on 24 August.
Pessimism over the Games’ staging this year has been growing in recent weeks.
IOC member Dick Pound said on 7 January there could be no guarantee the Games would go ahead, and last week Sir Keith Mills, chief executive of London 2012, said he thought it was “unlikely” the competition would take place. In Japan, a recent Kyodo News poll found that 80% of the the population surveyed wanted the Olympics to be either cancelled or postponed again.
Muto added: “As vaccinations are conducted to some extent, I expect public opinion will get generally relieved. And I think there is a possibility that it makes it easier to hold the Games.
“It is natural that people would be very worried about it. But we hope the situation will definitely be improved and under such a situation, I think public opinion will be improved as well.”
The Games chief added that, unlike at tennis’ Australian Open, athletes would not be asked to quarantine on arrival in Japan.
‘The noise doesn’t help the athletes’
Andy Anson, British Olympic Association chief, told BBC Radio 5 Live that there was “no plan B” and that he had been told the Games would go ahead as planned.
He added: “The noise doesn’t help… it doesn’t help the athletes.
“They need to focus on preparing for the Games. We’re hearing consistently from the IOC and Tokyo they are going ahead - it’s just a question of how.”
‘Times story not first to cast doubt’
Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC’s Tokyo correspondent
The Tokyo Olympics will go ahead as planned - so says the Japanese government. It says Friday’s newspaper report contains no truth.
Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, has gone further - suggesting she might lodge a formal complaint against the Times - and Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC, has also chimed in, although his denial was slightly more equivocal.
Friday’s story is not the first to cast doubt on the rescheduled Tokyo Games. Last week a senior government minister was forced to correct himself after saying a decision on the Games could go either way. And with new Covid cases in Japan running at over 5,000 a day, public opinion here is solidly against holding the Games this year.
- You can stream five fourth-round games live on the BBC this weekend, including Liverpool’s trip to Manchester United. Find out more here.