Weeks of anguish and a ‘black box’: Inside Tokyo’s decision to delay the Olympics

FILE Image: Japan’s Key Minister Shinzo Abe, President of the Tokyo 2020 Arranging Committee Yoshiro Mori, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto and Chief Cupboard Secretary Yoshihide Suga go to a phone conference with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (not pictured) at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan March 24, 2020, in this picture released by Japan’s Cabinet Community Relations Office environment through Kyodo. Obligatory credit score Japan’s Cupboard General public Relations Workplace by way of Kyodo/via REUTERS

March 27, 2020

By Yoshifumi Takemoto and Karolos Grohmann

TOKYO/LAUSANNE (Reuters) – Officials in demand of staging Tokyo’s Olympic Game titles crowded all-around a low table inside of Primary Minister Shinzo Abe’s residence late Tuesday, wincing as they spoke by cellphone with the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Minutes later on, Abe emerged to advise a gaggle of reporters that he had just spoken with Thomas Bach, the IOC’s president, and that they had agreed to formally hold off the Tokyo Olympics.

The evening call concerning Abe and Bach concluded times and months of negotiations among Tokyo and Lausanne, where by the IOC is based mostly, and arrived right after recurring public denials by Japanese officials that a pandemic could derail the Game titles.

By way of interviews with extra than a dozen persons involved in the method around current months, Reuters has pieced jointly an account of the frenetic times that led to Tuesday’s announcement.

It was an extraordinary turnaround for an Olympics that was anticipated to be held with out key concerns by a place recognised for community protection and economic stability. It also exposed a lethal miscalculation by Japanese and IOC officials of general public sentiment at a time of heightened fears above the coronavirus.

In the times foremost up to the choice, organizers of the Game titles were being below pressure from significant players in worldwide sports: sponsors seeking updates on occasion designs, impressive sports federations apprehensive about athlete protection, and Japanese officials trying to get to preserve a united front to help the 2020 Game titles.

But finally, it was the growing chorus of worries from renowned athletes and nations less than lockdown that sunk Tokyo’s hopes to keep the Olympics as prepared in July, according to senior officers at the IOC and on Tokyo’s organizing committee.

Japan’s federal government did not answer to an emailed request for remark.


The very first inkling of difficulty arrived in February as the coronavirus commenced to spread outside of China, in which it emerged late last 12 months.

When requested on Feb 14 about the rising amount of instances in China, John Coates, a member of the IOC’s Coordination Commission for Tokyo, brushed off concerns from reporters about contingency ideas, saying the state experienced been able to monitor its athletes “since day one”. Most of them had been planning for the Game titles overseas and would for that reason not need to have to be quarantined on arrival in Japan, he claimed.

A few weeks afterwards, immediately after Abe had taken the unprecedented stage of closing colleges throughout the state, Yoshiro Mori, the head of the 2020 arranging committee, spoke in unusually blunt conditions when requested by a reporter about making alterations to the Olympic agenda.

“I’m not God so I really don’t know,” he said on March 4.

But powering the scenes in early March, authorities and central bank officials in Japan ended up already weighing the hazard of cancellation as they drafted projections for this year’s economic outlook, resources with direct expertise of the make a difference mentioned.

Japanese corporate sponsors who had put in a history $3 billion to take part in the Olympics have been also increasing ever more anxious as the number of virus instances ticked upward, in accordance to a number of sources at many organizations.

These organizations, already keeping common meetings with organizers to explore the evolving situation, privately voiced worry about flip-flopping general public messages coming from officials, representatives from half a dozen sponsors stated.

Various sponsors concerned in the talks felt hamstrung in the chaotic situation, declaring they had not been provided assurances about what would come about to cash they experienced contributed to the Olympics if there was a cancellation or postponement, they stated.

“We’ve by now invested a ton of income on Olympics-linked advertising and marketing campaigns and pre-Online games functions, and we are not heading to get the revenue back again,” explained a person source at a big Japanese sponsor. She claimed workers associated in the party were “floored” on hearing Abe’s remarks.

A representative at a further Japanese sponsor stated they even now experienced not listened to details about the delayed Game titles.

One more official at a top-tier Japanese sponsor reported it appeared as if choices had been becoming made in “a black box”.

In an emailed reaction to Reuters’ concerns, Tokyo 2020 organizers said they were being not able to disclose facts of person contracts with sponsors for confidentiality factors.

“We are reviewing all specific facets of the postponement of the Game titles and will announce facts as soon as possible,” the committee mentioned.


On March 16, Abe held a movie conference with leaders from the Team of Seven nations and made use of it to lay the groundwork for a postponement of the Olympics, a authorities resource shut to Abe claimed.

Abe had currently spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump right after the American chief referred to a just one-year postponement.

By that time, Japanese Olympic officers experienced realized the party could not go on as prepared in July, but they could not communicate about it publicly, a senior official at the arranging committee advised Reuters.

Two days just after the G7 contact, it was announced that the deputy head of the Japanese Olympic Committee analyzed good for the coronavirus.

Kozo Tashima, who also heads the country’s soccer association, attended a assembly with Mori and other influential leaders of Tokyo 2020 a 7 days prior.

“It was absolutely the minute it all turned true for us,” a Japanese nationwide committee official claimed.

By mid-March, the quantity of deaths brought about by the coronavirus had more than quadrupled to 7,980 around the globe from a month prior. The dying toll is now in excess of 22,000.

Meanwhile in Lausanne, sources familiar with deliberations in the IOC said Bach and other officials experienced underestimated the tide of public opinion turning from the event.

When questioned for comment from Bach, the IOC’s press place of work did not react to precise thoughts and directed Reuters to a transcript of a modern convention call in which he explained that the selection to postpone the Online games was based on “the developments with the dynamic spreading of the coronavirus”.

According to sources, the IOC requested numerous national Olympic committees around the weekend to open up training centers so their athletes could prepare for Tokyo, all those resources mentioned, even as international locations like Germany and Spain were being sealing borders and buying big-scale lockdowns.

Associates from some of the nations had attempted detailing to Bach how it was not attainable for their athletes to teach, citing vacation constraints and curfews, they claimed.

“But Bach was only considering about keeping the Online games in July as prepared,” 1 of these sources mentioned.

Bach, who was a attorney by career in advance of ascending to the prime IOC posture in 2013, instructed The New York Instances on March 19 that the Olympics were being 4 and a fifty percent months away, and that speculation on alternate ideas was “premature”.

But on Sunday, the resources mentioned the IOC identified as an crisis meeting of its government board immediately after much more athletes started voicing health considerations.

The IOC to begin with hoped the board conference might “buy it a bit more time,” one of the resources mentioned.

A Canadian IOC member, Dick Pound, reported Tokyo and the Olympic committee weren’t completely ready to make the selection till they saw the “logarithmic increase” in conditions in the United States and elsewhere, which contrasted with extra settled conditions in Japan and China.

“I feel they sooner or later recognized that even if Japan was beneath handle the relaxation of the entire world was not,” he explained.

It grew to become obvious that athletes had been not ready to effectively teach, specially in staff and beat athletics in which developing “safe distance” is tough, Pound claimed.


Tokyo 2020 was unraveling promptly.

Reiko Chinen, who oversees preparations for weightlifting at the 2020 game titles, claimed that strain was mounting on Tokyo to make a selection as international locations like Canada and Australia commenced dropping out.

The Olympic torch had already arrived in Japan and was remaining taken all over spots of Japan struck by the tsunami and earthquake in 2011, when Nahomi Kawasumi, a very well-identified women’s soccer participant picked to run in the relay, pulled out.

A senior arranging committee formal mentioned he knew a hold off was inevitable.

“We experienced to continue to keep making ready for the torch relay because if we had canceled it, then it would be clear that we meant to hold off the Olympics,” he claimed.

Then arrived Tuesday night. Just one by a single, black sedans carrying the leaders of Tokyo 2020 arrived at the key minister’s private residence.

Behind closed doorways, a deal was underway.

An hour before Abe was set to talk with Bach, IOC’s Coates and the main executive of Tokyo 2020, Toshiro Muto, convened a convention get in touch with, a senior arranging committee official said.

“The premier’s needs for a delay of about a calendar year was communicated to Coates and both equally sides verified that they wanted the identical consequence,” the official claimed.

Shortly just after, the two leaders sealed the offer.

A working day afterwards, the Olympic clock mounted outside Tokyo Station stopped counting down the times and minutes till the Summertime Video games.

It now shows the day’s day and time, just like any other clock in the city.

(Reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto, Takashi Umekawa, Makiko Yamazaki, Maki Shiraki, Naomi Tajitsu, Yuki Nitta, Ritsuko Ando, Antoni Slodkowski, Leika Kihara, Mari Saito, Sakura Murakami, Ju-min Park, Ami Miyazaki, and Eimi Yamamitsu in Tokyo Karolos Grohmann in Lausanne Nathan Layne in New York Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing Writing by Mari Saito Editing by Philip McClellan)

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