A Japanese expert who has criticised the country's response to the
coronavirus on Monday warned that he is "pessimistic" that the postponed
Olympics can be held even in 2021.
"To be honest with you I don't think the Olympics is likely to be
held next year," said Kentaro Iwata, a professor of infectious diseases
at Kobe University.
Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed last month
to delay the Tokyo 2020 Games until July 2021 after pressure from
athletes and sports federations.
But in recent days, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread
worldwide, there have been questions about whether even a year-long
delay will be sufficient.
Iwata told a press briefing that the virus would have to be under
control at home and abroad for the Games to take place "because you have
to invite the athletes and the audience from all over the world".
"Japan might be able to control this disease by next summer, I wish
we could, but I don't think that would happen everywhere on Earth, so in
this regard I'm very pessimistic about holding the Olympic Games next
Iwata said he could only see the Games being held next year if they
were significantly altered, "such as no audience, or very limited
Iwata made headlines earlier this year for his public criticism of
Japan's handling of the coronavirus-wracked Diamond Princess cruise ship
that docked off the country's coast.
Japanese officials opted to carry out an on-ship quarantine, but more
than 700 people on board ended up contracting the virus, and 13 died.
The decision to postpone the Olympics is unprecedented in peacetime,
and followed a wave of complaints from athletes facing travel bans and
The postponement is a huge undertaking, but organisers have insisted
they are working towards the new opening date despite ongoing
uncertainty about when the pandemic will be over.
Asked about potential delays to the 2021 date, organisers said their "mission is to prepare the stage for next summer".
"We do not feel it is appropriate to respond to speculative questions," they told AFP.
"With regard to countermeasures against Covid-19, Tokyo 2020 and the
IOC have a framework for information exchange and are cooperating
closely with the World Health Organisation.
"We will continue to work closely with relevant organisations and review all necessary countermeasures."
Last week, Tokyo 2020 spokesperson Masa Takaya told reporters at an
online briefing there is "no Plan B" for the Games being postponed
But Iwata is not the only expert to have raised questions about 2021,
with Devi Sridhar, chair of global health at the University of
Edinburgh, warning last week that it was "very unrealistic" to think the
Games could be held next year unless a vaccine is found.
"If we do get a vaccine within the next year then actually I think
that (Olympics) is realistic. The vaccine will be the game-changer - an
effective, affordable, available vaccine," Sridhar told the BBC.
"If we don't get a scientific breakthrough then I think that looks very unrealistic."
The decision to delay the Games was a painful one for organisers and
the IOC, which came in for criticism for the drawn-out decision to
Initially both officials in Japan and at the IOC insisted the Games
could go ahead as planned, even as lockdowns around the world meant
athletes were shut out of training locations and forced to stay home.
The virus had already wreaked havoc with preparations, forcing the cancellation of qualifiers, and alterations to test events.