TOKYO (AP) — Japanese cabinet minister Taro Kono has said “anything can happen” in regard to the postponed Tokyo Olympics, raising more doubts about the games scheduled to begin in just over six months.
Kono’s statements contradict the official government position and that of the local organizing committee. They have both said repeatedly the games will take place and will be “safe and secure.”
Kono opened the door to a possible cancellation. He also gave more credence to recent poll results that show about 80% in Japan think the Olympics shouldn’t happen, or will not happen.
“I should say anything is possible,” Kono said at the Reuters Next conference.
Kono is the former defense minister and is now the minister for administrative and regulatory reform.
“It could go either way,” he added.
Much of Japan is under an emergency order with new cases rising across the country. Japan has handled the coronavirus better than most countries and has attributed about 4,000 deaths of COVID-19.
The Olympics are to open on July 23 followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 24.
In a statement, Tokyo organizers did not address Kano’s comments but said that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga “expressed his determination to hold the games.”
“The situation surrounding COVID-19 is changing every moment,” the statement said. “We expect that the series of measures being implemented by the government of Japan, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and other prefectural authorities will help improve the situation.”
Kono suggested few fans were likely to be attending with the focus on 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes who must enter Japan. They will be accompanied by tens of thousands of officials, judges, volunteers, media, and broadcasters.
“We need to think about those people who come and watch, but we basically need to focus on the athletes first,” he said. “And then if it’s possible, we need to get the tourists in.”
“So from now until summer, anything is possible,” he added.
Kono is known for his forthright manner and has been clear about his interest in being prime minister. He attended Georgetown University in the United States and did the interview in English.
“The Olympic committee must have been thinking about Plan B, Plan C, whatever,” Kono said. “I mean, the situation is not easy. There must be some backup plan.”
IOC President Thomas Bach and Yoshiro Mori, the president of the organizing committee, have said the Olympics cannot be postponed again and will be canceled if they can’t be held.
Japan and the IOC are heavily invested in the Olympics. Japan has spent at least $25 billion to organize the Olympics, and the IOC relies on the games with 73% of its income coming from the sale of broadcast rights. Another 18% is from sponsors.
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