Future of Tokyo Olympics in Doubt as Countries Withdraw

(Image credit: International Olympic Committee)

TOKYO—As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe and with nations ordering citizens to take drastic measures to reduce contagion, the world’s largest sporting and broadcast event hangs in the balance. 

On Sunday, Canada, followed by Australia, both announced that they would not send athletes to the 2020 Summer Games, which take place in Tokyo, July 24-Aug. 9. The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in a statement that it urgently recommended that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) postpone the games. "This is not solely about athlete health—this is about public health," it said in a statement.

Their withdrawals came after the IOC issued a statement that it was still evaluating the future of the games but would make a final decision within four weeks. 

"A decision about a postponement today could not determine a new date for the Olympic Games because of the uncertain developments in both directions; an improvement, as we are seeing in a number of countries thanks to the severe measures being taken, or a deteriorating situation in other countries,” IOC President, Thomas Bach, wrote in a letter to athletes over the weekend.

Bach noted that the IOC is looking at a postponement to a later date rather than an outright cancellation. "Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody," he added. "Therefore it is not on our agenda."

Japan is reportedly spending $12.6 billion on the games and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told lawmakers over the weekend that it would be difficult to hold the games during the pandemic without behavioral restraints. 

“If it is difficult to hold (the Games) in a complete way, a decision of postponement would be unavoidable,” he said.

NBC, the broadcaster covering the games for the U.S.—which has reported that it has sold $1.5 billion in advertising—said earlier this month that it is financially prepared should the event be postponed. 

“Should there be some disruption, we anticipate these kinds of things in big-contract language,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said at the Morgan Stanley Investor Conference, as reported by Vulture in early March. “It’s full steam ahead. We’re getting ready. We also have insurance for any expenses we make, so there should be no losses should there not be an Olympics.” 

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched digitalbroadcasting.com for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (www.tvtech.com), the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.