People wearing a mask walk near the Olympics’ mark in Odaiba, Tokyo. Photo: Yomiuri/AFP
Forty years on, the upcoming Tokyo Games are the “cursed Olympics” once again, Japan’s finance minister said, in remarks that could stir controversy at a time when his government is scrambling to quash speculation that the coronavirus epidemic could derail the world’s biggest sporting event this year.
“It’s a problem that’s happened every 40 years – it’s the cursed Olympics – and that’s a fact,” Taro Aso, who also serves as deputy prime minister, said in a parliamentary committee.
Japan had won the bid to host the Summer and Winter Olympics in 1940 – in Tokyo and Sapporo, respectively – but both Games were cancelled due to the Second World War.
Japan is not making any preparations to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics, the government’s top spokesman Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, said on Wednesday, stressing Tokyo’s resolve to host the event as scheduled despite the global spread of coronavirus.
Suga said the government would continue with preparations to hold the July 24 to August 9 Games as scheduled, working closely with organisations such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“We’re not making any adjustments to postpone the Games,” Suga told parliament when asked by a lawmaker whether the government was making plans to cancel or postpone the event.
His comments come amid mounting concerns about whether the Games can proceed as planned, with the rapidly spreading virus panicking financial markets and bringing business and social activity around the world to a standstill. Many sports events have been cancelled or postponed.
Even if Japan can contain the coronavirus outbreak, the Olympic Games “would not make sense” if other countries cannot send their athletes, Aso said.
“As the prime minister said, it’s desirable to hold the Olympics in an environment where everyone feels safe and happy. But that’s not something Japan alone can decide,” he said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Group of Seven leaders had agreed to support a “complete” Olympics, but dodged questions about whether any of the leaders had brought up the possibility of postponement.
The IOC has remained committed to staging the Tokyo Games as planned, saying on Tuesday after a meeting with international sports federations that measures against the virus were delivering results.
But it is facing growing voices of dissent from top athletes worried about their health.