Senior Japanese official Toshihiro Nikai warns Olympics could still be cancelled
A senior Japanese ruling party official has admitted cancelling the Olympic Games this year remains an option.
With less than 100 days until the Games commence in Tokyo on July 23 , Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said Japan might have to "give up" on the Olympics if rising coronavirus cases in the country made the event "impossible" as reported by the Kyodo news agency.
It is the first time that such a senior government figure has admitted on the record that the Games might not go ahead should the pandemic situation in Japan intensify. Many other ruling party politicians have avoided discussing the delicate issue of a possible cancellation.
Nikai is a highly influential power broker in Japanese politics, and his intervention will raise fresh doubts about whether the Games, already postponed from last year, will be held.
"If it's a situation that's absolutely impossible, we need to make a decision without hesitation," he said.
"What's the meaning of the Olympics if we spread this infectious disease to many people during the Olympics?”
The comments came less than 24 hours after International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates told reporters that cancellation is "certainly not" on the table.
"The Tokyo Games will be the light at the end of the tunnel," he said defiantly.
Japan is still grappling with rising coronavirus infections, with numbers trending higher in Tokyo after the government ended a state of emergency, and Osaka posting a record 1220 new daily cases on Sunday.
Experts believe the country is in a fourth wave of Covid-19, with official figures showing more than 44,500 active cases, and variant strains putting huge amounts of pressure on the medical system.
Despite that, the government is pushing forward with preparations for the Olympics, putting social distancing measures and restrictions on spectators in place.
In response to Nikai's comments, the Tokyo Olympic organising committee said in a statement: "Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has repeatedly expressed the government's commitment to holding the Tokyo 2020 Games.
"All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and the IPC [International Paralympic Committee] are fully focused on hosting the Games this summer."
Amid the ongoing uncertainty, opposition to hosting the Olympics in a pandemic also remains strong in Japan with up to 80 per cent believing the Games should be cancelled or postponed for a second time. Meanwhile, "Cancelling Olympics" has been trending on social-media site Twitter in Japan, with more than 20,000 tweets from users.
The continued effects of Covid-19 on the Games have also been have also been highlighted within the torch relay for the Tokyo Olympics, with both legs through the city of Osaka being run through a mostly empty park.
The relay, which traditionally signifies the official countdown to the games, has also come under intense scrutiny from the public. A recent poll conducted by Japanese news agency Kyodo showed 13.2 per cent want the relay to continue until the opening ceremony. Another 49.3 per cent said the relay should be cancelled in areas with severe outbreaks, while 35.9 per cent said it should be called off entirely.
The Olympics and Paralympics are expected to draw 15,400 athletes and tens of thousands of officials, judges, media and broadcasters. However, spectators and volunteers from abroad have been banned.