Sun | Jan 17, 2021

Tokyo Olympics: Q&A on vaccines, fans, qualifying and costs

Published:Friday | November 20, 2020 | 12:15 AM
The Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan.
The Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan.

TOKYO, Japan (AP):

We are at the halfway point. The Tokyo Olympics were postponed eight months ago, and now are to open in eight months: July 23, 2021. Crunch time is coming.

Tokyo organisers and International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach have spoken vaguely about how the Games can take place in the midst of a pandemic. Plans and dozens of “scenarios” have been drawn up about COVID-19 countermeasures: possible quarantines, vaccines, safe distancing, and making the Athletes Village a safe “bubble environment”.

These ideas will have to become concrete solutions beginning next month and into early 2021.

Hanging in the balance are 11,000 Olympic athletes and 4,400 Paralympians. The IOC depends on the Games since 91 per cent of its revenue is from selling TV rights and sponsorships.

Here are some questions and answers about where the Olympics stand on several fronts.

Q: Bach was in Tokyo this week and said vaccines and rapid testing are on the horizon, which he believes will make it much easier to hold the Games. Will athletes be required to take a vaccine to compete?

A: Bach says no. But athletes and any official or fan going to Japan will be under pressure to get vaccinated. Officials are suggesting athletes will face a 14-day quarantine after entering Japan.

IOC vice-president John Coates said the IOC and national Olympic committees will be looking for “role models” among athletes to encourage vaccination. Bach says healthcare workers are a priority for the vaccine ahead of athletes. IOC officials have also suggested vaguely that the Switzerland-based body will pick up some of the vaccination costs. As is often the case, there has been nothing specific.

Q: Will fans be allowed into venues?

A: We still don’t know. Bach says he expects a “reasonable” number of fans to be able to attend events. There is still no decision announced on allowing thousands of fans from abroad to attend. There is the health issue. But there is also pressure on the operating budget to allow as many fans as possible. The budget foresees US$800 million (J$117 billion) in revenue from ticket sales, the third largest income item. Japan has been successful holding sports events with some fans, at times, at the 70-80 per cent capacity level.

Q: What’s the COVID-19 situation in Japan?

A: Better than most places, but infection cases are rising. About 2,000 people are reported to have died from COVID-19 in Japan, in a population of about 125 million. New cases in Tokyo yesterday topped 500 for the first time. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says the country is on “maximum alert”. This surge is not likely to convince an already-sceptical population that the Olympics are a safe and sensible idea.