TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan and the IOC stood firm on Friday on their commitment to host the Tokyo Olympics this year and denied a report of a possible cancellation, although the pledge looks unlikely to ease public concern about holding the event during a pandemic.
A government spokesman said there was “no truth” to a report in Britain’s Times newspaper that the government had privately concluded the Games would have to be canceled.
The Times, citing an unidentified senior member of Japan’s ruling coalition, said the government’s focus was now on securing the Games for Tokyo in the next available year, 2032.
Later, Japan Olympic Committee head Yasuhiro Yamashita told Reuters the report was “a fabrication” and added in an interview: “It’s wrong and it’s ridiculous even having to comment on this.”
The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, said there had been no talk of cancelling or delaying the Olympics and a protest should be lodged over the Times report.
The Games organising committee also denied the report, saying in a statement its partners including the government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were “fully focused” on hosting the games as scheduled.
Sebastian Coe, head of World Athletics, also moved to reassure fans and locals that it would go ahead in a secure environment. “There is an absolute, cast-iron determination,” Coe told Reuters, saying that the arrival of vaccines and ability of athletes to train meant the situation was far better than when the Games were postponed last year.
Japan has been hit less severely by the pandemic than many other advanced economies but a recent surge in cases has forced it to close its borders to non-resident foreigners and declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and other cities.
Tokyo reported new daily coronavirus cases of more than 1,000 for nine straight days through Thursday and set a single-day record of more than 2,400 infections earlier this month. The death toll from the respiratory disease stands at nearly 4,900 people in Japan.
There are public fears that an influx of athletes will spread the virus. About 80% of people in Japan do not want the Games to be held this summer, recent polls show.
In an interview ahead of Friday’s report, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said he was cautiously hopeful that successful COVID-19 vaccine campaigns could help ensure the safe staging of the world’s largest sporting event.
The Olympic Games represent a major milestone for Japan and its premier, Yoshihide Suga, who has said the event would bring “hope and courage” to the world. Suga reiterated on Friday the Games would go ahead as planned.