Why Suga is so determined to move forward with the Tokyo Olympics

At its lowest in May, more than 80% of the Japanese public wanted the next Olympics to be canceled or postponed, hardly anyone in the country was vaccinated and medical experts were lining up to call the games an intolerable risk of Covid -19.

Despite intense pressure on Tokyo 2020, Japan is not yet close to canceling the Olympics, according to government and organizing committee officials. Instead, they sought to slow down time and create a sense of inevitability around games.

This determination to move forward has nothing to do with financial considerations, analysts said, but rather reflects a mixture of electoral politics, outbidding China and practical calculations by Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese Prime Minister. .

There are more and more signs that Suga’s political judgment was correct. The percentage of the Japanese public wanting the games to be canceled has fallen to 31%, according to the NHK’s regular poll, and nearly two-thirds said the games should be played appropriately. limits on spectators.

“People are basically resigning themselves to the games that are going on,” said Atsuo Ito, political analyst and former leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. “If this is to happen, so be it. “

For Suga, one simple fact dominates the calculations regarding the Olympics: It has been four years since the last general election in Japan and he must call another one by October 22. For him to survive as party leader, the PLD must do well in this election.

Many of his allies believe their best bet is a successful match. “Suga and the people around him believe that if the games take place Olympic fever will set in,” said Takao Toshikawa, editor of political bulletin Tokyo Insideline. “If there is a medal rush for Japan, then they will want to call an election as soon as possible.”

With the Paralympic Games closing on September 5, Suga hopes to go to the public almost immediately thereafter and ride an Olympic wellness factor for another four years in power.

Some of Suga’s bureaucratic advisers see holding the Olympics as an electoral risk, Ito said, because a sharp rise in coronavirus infections from the games could turn into a damaging scandal.

Advice from epidemiologists, however, has suggested that just holding the games isn’t that dangerous, not least because 80% of those who travel to Japan will be vaccinated. the hand danger stems from increased domestic travel and social contact, but Tokyo 2020 organizers hope to control this by limiting the number of spectators at venues.

Cancellation itself raises political risks. Suga might get a short-term boost if he is seen as a decisive leader protecting the country, but then he would have to run for office as the man who gave up the games after years of effort and billions. yen of public money.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga must call an election by October 22, and for him to survive as party leader, the LDP must rank well in the polls © Pool / AFP via Getty Images

Several other political factors weigh in favor of moving forward. The Tokyo Games are at the heart of the legacy of Shinzo Abe, Suga’s predecessor as Prime Minister. Abe is still a powerbroker in the PLD and Suga needs his support.

Japanese leaders are also keenly aware that Beijing to host Winter Olympics in early 2022. Triumphant games in China, staged just eight months after an ignominious Japanese failure, is a prospect few PLD politicians want to consider.

Suga has been betting for months that sentiment will change when voters receive their Covid vaccines, and after long delays, the rollout in Japan is finally picking up steam. The country delivers more than 600,000 vaccines a day and aims to reach 1 million this month. About 30 to 40 percent of the country will have received at least one dose by the time the games begin.

A common theory in Japan is that the country is forced by the International Olympic Committee to host the games. “We have been stuck in a situation where we cannot even stop”, Said Kaori Yamaguchi, former judo champion and executive member of the Japanese Olympic Committee, this month.

But lawyers said the IOC had limited leverage, as Japan had relatively little to lose financially from a cancellation. “Most of the money Japan has invested has already been spent on infrastructure, hotels, the Olympic Village and things like that,” said Irwin Kishner, sports lawyer at Herrick, Feinstein in New York.

After last year’s postponement, Japan is no longer expecting much revenue from Tokyo 2020, and it will lose most of what it has left if it chooses to limit the number of spectators and refund of ticket sales.

The IOC, on the other hand, is still online for all revenue from its broadcast rights and direct sponsors, which explains its strident insistence that the games go “except Armageddon” and even if Tokyo remains under the IOC. state of emergency Covid. .

While the Tokyo 2020 organizers have no contractual right to cancel, the IOC would have little recourse if Japan simply closed its borders and made it impossible to hold the games.

“How would the IOC go about suing the Japanese government?” asked Nick White, sports lawyer at Charles Russell Speechlys in London. “Even if he found a way to prosecute them, I think any sane court would say that a government has the right to impose restrictions for public health reasons.”

Fortunately for the IOC, the interests of the Japanese Prime Minister have aligned with his. Unless the coronavirus situation deteriorates significantly over the next few weeks, the Olympic cauldron will be lit in Tokyo on July 23.

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