1. When are the games supposed to take place?
From July 23 to Aug. 8. The Paralympics would begin Aug. 24. It would be the first staging of a modern Olympics in an odd-numbered year. This of course depends on the pandemic being contained to such an extent in the next few months that the games can go forward. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said he’s determined to hold the games even as new pandemic-related restrictions took effect around Japan in January. Organizers have said the 2020 Olympics will be canceled -- not delayed again -- if they can’t go ahead as scheduled.
2. When will we know?
Last year the plug was pulled was in late March when many countries were grappling with their first infection wave. This year March is seen again as a key period for making a decision on whether to go ahead with the games, as it marks the start of final preparations. Given the immense logistics of bringing athletes and officials to Japan, the sooner there’s certainty, the better. The International Olympic Committee’s executive board is scheduled to meet by videoconference on Jan. 27 for an update.
3. What has to be decided?
The switch has raised numerous headaches, from how to treat athletes who already qualified for the world’s biggest multisports event to the status of tickets and sponsorships and even the availability of venues. There is also still a question of whether vaccinations will be required for participants and -- if allowed -- spectators, and the need for extensive testing and quarantining. Two of the biggest sporting draws, track and field and swimming, have pushed back their own championships already to 2022 to avoid overlapping with the rescheduled Olympics.
4. Why might the Olympics be canceled?
Three big reasons. The first would be a pandemic that is still raging, with new virus strains emerging even as countries implement vaccination programs. The second would be infections remaining high in Japan, where the government declared a virus emergency for major metropolitan areas in January. The third would be a loss of support in the host country, where many are already worried that holding a global event during a pandemic could bring a devastating Covid-19 wave. In an NHK poll in January, only 16% of Japanese thought the Tokyo Olympics should be held as planned this summer, down 11 percentage points from December.
5. What has postponement cost?
The bill is at least 300 billion yen ($2.9 billion), with the central government, Tokyo Metropolitan Government and organizing committee splitting the costs. The host city contract between Tokyo and the IOC doesn’t address postponement.
6. Where does this leave sponsors?
Having to recalibrate their marketing plans. All sponsors retain their rights despite the postponement, including those with agreements expiring in 2020. The IOC’s top-tier global sponsors -- an exclusive list of 14 companies including Coca-Cola Co. and Visa Inc. -- pay well over $1 billion every four years to be associated with the games. Those agreements tend to span multiple Olympics, whereas local sponsors are in it just for this event. Tokyo organizers leaned on national pride to score an unprecedented level of support from 68 domestic sponsors such as Asahi beer and Asics sneakers -- raising more than $3.3 billion, triple the previous record for an Olympics.
7. Who gets to go?
IOC President Thomas Bach said in a visit to Japan in November his group and local organizers wanted to have spectators. How many -- and if people from outside Japan would be allowed -- has yet to be decided. Holding events at empty venues would likely mean a loss of several billion dollars due to such things as lost ticket sales and tourism expenditures -- and probably dampen the mood for TV audiences. Other major sporting events have gone on during the pandemic, albeit with restrictions. This includes sports in Japan like sumo, which started one of its major tournaments, with limited entry by spectators, as Tokyo entered the state of emergency in January. About 7.8 million tickets were made available for the Olympics before the delay. In October, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee said it would give refunds, adding “tickets that have been already purchased will be valid for the same session on the new date.”
8. Has an Olympics ever been called off?
Five Olympic Games were scrapped, all because of world wars: The summer games were canceled in 1916, 1940 and 1944 as were the winter games in 1940 and 1944. The 1940 games, which were to have been hosted by Tokyo, were initially postponed, but then canceled. The only time an Olympics got switched was when the 1976 winter games were moved to Innsbruck, Austria, from Denver after people in Colorado protested spiraling costs.
9. Why not call it Tokyo 2021?
In announcing the postponement, organizers said they wanted the games to stand as a beacon of hope and the Olympic flame as the “light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present.” It was agreed that the Olympic flame would stay in Japan and the event would keep the name Tokyo 2020. By keeping the name, the IOC also insures that logos, packaging, t-shirts, merchandise and broadcast chyrons remain the same -- a cost-saving move for sponsors and partners.
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