Bradley Beal (306654)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

Will the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games be postponed for the second straight summer? 

It’s a distinct possibility that COVID-19 will shut it down following an ominous warning from Toshiro Muto at a press conference on Tuesday.

“We have agreed that based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again,” said the head of the Tokyo organizing committee. “At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.”

After a year-long delay, on the eve of the opening ceremony, set to take place tomorrow, there is an air of uncertainty and dissenting views as to whether the Olympics should move forward as scheduled considering the deadly Delta variant is prominent in most countries from where athletes will be traveling to Tokyo and the dramatic increase in the number of positive cases in the city. 

On Tuesday, the Tokyo metropolitan government reported 1,387 new cases, up 557 from a week earlier. The seven-day rolling average of new cases was up 49.3% from the prior week. In May, a survey by the Asahi Shimbun, one of the oldest and largest newspapers in Japan, found that over 80% of Japanese residents did not want the country to host the Olympics this summer. The poll was conducted as Japan was enduring its fourth wave of COVID-19. It’s now in its fifth wave.

Although the International Olympic Committee contractually holds decision making authority over the Games, and is the body that will ultimately determine if the Olympics are stopped after it commences, a high number of positive cases among athletes could lead to health and safety measures imposed by the Japanese government that would effectively bring competition to an end.

Billions of dollars have been invested by multiple entities to stage the Tokyo Olympics. The various influential stakeholders, notably NBCUniversal, the primary broadcast partner of the IOC, will have a strong voice in determining how the Games will unfold. In 2011, NBC agreed to pay the IOC $4.38 billion to broadcast the Olympics through the 2020 Games. Subsequently, in 2014, the parties struck an agreement in which NBC will shell out $7.75 billion to televise and stream the Games on its various channels and platforms through the 2032 Olympics.

Some of the United States’ highest profile athletes were forced out of the Games resulting from COVID. This past Sunday, Coco Gauf, one of tennis’s brightest young stars, revealed she would miss the event after testing positive. And last Thursday, guard Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, the NBA’s second leading scorer during the regular season at 31.3 points per game, was placed in COVID protocols and will not travel to Tokyo with the USA Men’s National Team.

“As far as Bradley’s concerned, I’m dying for him,” said Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich. “We all are. Since he was a little kid, this has been a dream of his.”