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Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike Confident of Celebrating Safe Olympic Games in July 2021

Arielle Busetto



The Antwerp games were held in 1920, shortly after the First World War and the so-called Spanish flu epidemic. They served as a symbol of post crisis solidarity and recovery. The Tokyo 2020 games can also symbolize the resilience of humanity as we work together to defeat this invisible enemy, COVID-19.


These were the words of Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike as she presented the perspective of the metropolitan government on moving forward with organization of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in a press conference on November 24.


Koike touched upon the urgent worry of what to do regarding the rising number of COVID-19 infections that has plagued Japan together with the rest of the world. She then explained some of the measures the government is taking to prepare for a safe Olympic and Paralympic games, now set to take place next summer.



Towards a Safe Olympics


Steps for delivering a successful Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are clearly continuing in the background.


Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) visited Tokyo from November 15 to 18, for the first time since the start of the pandemic.


His aim for the visit was to assess the progress and discuss with all the relevant parties what measures to take to achieve safe Olympic Games.


Yuriko Koike admitted that among the issues discussed with the IOC chairman was the reduction in costs for a simplified games, commenting:


It is also crucial that we consider cost reductions of the past postponed games to gain the support of the people of Tokyo and the rest of the world. We will continue to work hard to simplify preparations and operation of the games as much as possible.


Another key topic was one of how to provide a vaccine for the athletes and staff attending the games. On this, Koike showed optimism regarding collaboration with the IOC, as she said: “Bach’s remark that the IOC was prepared to cover the cost of the vaccine for all athletes and related participants was also something particularly noteworthy.”


Tokyo has also been gaining confidence in the fact that it can successfully deliver the large Olympics event under current COVID-19 pandemic conditions. In what many considered a test case, Tokyo hosted an international gymnastics competition in Shibuya (Tokyo) on November 8. Top athletes from Japan, Russia, China, the U.S. participated, and there were more than 2,000 spectators.


Governor Koike commented on the success of the international competition, and commented:


This event demonstrated the ingenuity of safety and security measures. I would like to pay tribute to all those involved in this event. We are also proud that we could demonstrate our ability to host such an event in Tokyo during these difficult times.


In addition to this, the national government has been experimenting with safe ways to hold sport events. In the last weekend of October baseball games took place at Yokohama Stadium, where over the space of three days spectators were increased gradually to near-full capacity. However, along the way video cameras and AI were introduced to monitor the crowds and make sure groups of people didn’t form while queuing for toilets and so on, thereby managing the risk of infection. 


Data published in the first part of November suggests that it’s possible to avoid large queues and minimize the chance of airborne transmission in crowded places.


What are the key points upon which the games turn? Koike highlighted attentive monitoring of the spread of the virus across the world and the implementation of strict COVID-19 prevention policies on the ground.  


Upon satisfying these conditions, Koike expressed cautious optimism that safe Olympic Games for everyone to enjoy could be a reality:  


The best-case scenario would be something where the athletes from all countries would be able to come here to Japan in safety and with ease of mind, and that the Olympics couldーas in previous yearsーbe held with spectators present in full capacity.



Background: The COVID-19 Situation in Japan and Tokyo


To give some background, while other countries are currently dealing with the second wave that is taking a heavy toll on both the medical and economic fabric of many countries, Japan seems to be grappling relatively well with the pandemic.


The country has registered a couple of hundred cases a day for most of the first half of the year since the start of the pandemic. There was a peak in spring when the government called the state of emergency. Since then, the summer period saw a modest increase in COVID-19 cases, especially in the capital, which registered about 500 cases at its peak.


Japan is currently dealing with what experts are calling “the third wave”, with daily new infections nationwide reaching 2,000-2,500 cases for the first time in the third week of November.


However, despite the worrying rise of contagions, the number of serious cases and deaths have stayed contained since the start of the pandemic. 2,028 COVID-19 related deaths have been recorded in total in Japan since the start of the pandemic. Tokyo had 51 people in intensive care as of November 25.


Given the circumstances of the contagion and the steps taken by the national and local governments, many of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee parties showed optimism regarding holding the Olympic Games after Thomas Bach’s November visit to Japan.


Thomas Bach in press conferences during his visit to Japan repeated multiple times that the Tokyo 2020 could represent “the light at the end of tunnel” in the year of COVID-19.


The 1920 Antwerp games are perhaps not the best known Olympics of this generation, but they took place, even in a world which was less globalized than the one we live in now.


Might Tokyo 2020 be the light at the end of the tunnel that Thomas Bach is hoping they would become?



Author: Arielle Busetto


Arielle Busetto is a journalist at JAPAN Forward. She has finished the intensive Japanese course of the Inter University Center For Advanced Japanese Studies in Yokohama in summer 2018, and is originally from Siena, Italy.