A former International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president has suggested the organisation seek counsel from the United Nations on whether the delayed Tokyo Olympics go ahead, with the Games scheduled to start in July.
- Kevan Gosper said UN involvement in deciding whether the Games went ahead was not out of the question
- Japan has been confronted by a growing number of COVID-19 infections
- The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin on July 23
Tokyo organisers must weigh the geopolitical, budgetary and social pressures of staging the Games against the backdrop of a national emergency in which thousands of new COVID-19 infections are recorded daily.
The IOC could face a drastic loss of more than $1 billion — mainly from television rights — if the Games are not held.
Australian honorary IOC member Kevan Gosper, who served as a vice-president from 1990 to 1994 and 1999 to 2003, said it was crucial a decision be made soon on whether the Games go ahead.
Gosper said UN expertise was possibly required, given the precariousness of the landscape.
“If you are looking for a third party that recognises this has gone beyond an issue just related to sport, or just related to national interests … then there could be a case to go to the United Nations and seek their involvement in arbitrating whether the Games go ahead or not,” he told The Ticket.
“It’s in the interests of the general health of the athletes, administrators, viewers, and the rest of the world because we are talking about something that is potentially going to involve representatives of 205 countries.
“We did that with the set-up of the refugees representation at the Games, we did it — and I was personally involved — with getting East Timor up even though they weren’t a national entity to take part in the Sydney Games, and we are not strangers in our relationships with the United Nations.
“There are only two players in this — Tokyo and the IOC — and frankly with all of the uncertainties and the extra costs it’ll only take one of them to blink and then the whole thing will come unstuck.”
The Tokyo Olympics are not due to begin until July 23 but organisers do not have the option of waiting until then to make a decision.
The likely cut-off date will be in mid-March ahead of the scheduled start of the Olympic Torch Relay on the 25th of that month.
The IOC is known to be wary of outside interference but Mr Gosper said any involvement of the UN should not be seen that way.
“Always there will be a pushback because the IOC and John Coates (an IOC vice-president and Tokyo Coordination Commission chair) exemplifies this, he doesn’t like any outside interference but this is not interference,” he said.
“This I would believe is a resort to good advice, good counsel and maybe good decision-making, which takes the stress out of the only two parties who are involved at the moment.”
Gosper, an Australian Olympic silver medallist, said an enormous amount of work had gone into getting this far in trying to “reconstruct a Games that will survive the COVID variations and enable our athletes to take part”.
“We must credit the Japanese for the way they’ve held their nerve,” he said.
“I think if it wasn’t Tokyo in charge we might have had a closed shop by now.”
Japanese Government ‘sure to go ahead’
Recent surveys have revealed just over 80 per cent of Tokyo residents do not want the Games to go ahead this year.
Rei Saito, from Yokohama’s Toin University, said the pressure was building on the Japanese Government and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
“The Government is sure to go ahead, however they are pressured by public opinion since the general election is set to be held this fall after the Olympic Games,” Dr Saito said.
“But if a cancellation occurs, they don’t want to reveal the costs to the public and they will be criticised anyway.”
Shintaro Sato, a professor of sports marketing and business at Tokyo’s Waseda University, said while going ahead with the Games was challenging medically, the psychological capital of proceeding should not be underestimated.
“I think the psychological investment from the Japanese people is really significant,” he said.
“The context was a little bit different but I conducted a national survey on the Rugby World Cup in 2019 [held in Japan] and the Japanese people perceived a significant impact from the event — economic, social and environmental.
“That can actually lead to psychological capital — that is basically hope and optimism for the future and that can lead to their psychological wellbeing.
“Focussing on the psychological impact of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games is really crucial.”
Gosper said it was still too early to rule out the Olympics going ahead but the final decision was fast approaching.
“The message at the moment is, don’t give up, and all our hopes are that the athletes will take part in the Games,” he said.
“I wouldn’t put money on it either way. I just hope they are lucky enough to pull it off.”