The 71 Covid cases linked to the Olympics are a small percentage of the average 1,180 new cases per day in Tokyo over the past week. But every politician has their limits, and Games organizers admit they can’t predict what will happen with case numbers.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s problem is an October national election that he’s heading into with an approval rating of just 27 percent. “The situation would have to get much worse before Suga pulls the plug on the Games,” said Riley Walters, from the Hudson Institute’s Japan Center, who noted that “Covid deaths have also been very low in Japan with no sign of increase.”
Irish bookmaker Paddy Power puts the probability of the Games being cut short at 17 percent, and is offering 4/1 odds.
Covid knocks out a sport, team or individual superstar
Plenty of tennis stars have chosen to skip the Olympics rather than deal with the inconvenience of testing and isolation away from their families, including Serena Williams, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal. The biggest name so far to be knocked out via a positive Covid test is America’s rising tennis sensation Coco Gauff.
It’s not just a positive test that could be the problem: for an athlete caught avoiding Covid testers, “it’s like missing a dope test. You’re considered guilty until proven innocent,” said the IOC’s DeFrantz. Athletes face a ban of four years if they miss three consecutive drug tests.
Indoor body contact sports taking place in the second week of the Games — such as wrestling, karate and judo — face the highest risk of cancellation. That’s because of higher Covid risk from those activities, and because a large Covid outbreak is more likely to be identified in the second week of the Games than the first, given the additional opportunities for the virus to spread over time.
Paralympics falls victim to Olympic disaster
Olympic screw-ups are more likely to have a knock-on effect for the Paralympics, which are set to begin August 24.
That’s partially because Olympic competitions have already started, and it would likely take investigators some time to attribute a potential super-spreading event to the Games. The Olympics also have a lot more money tied to them — in the form of sponsorship, TV contracts, and the free publicity that comes from advertising your city to a global audiences of billions — meaning organizers will be hesitant to blow them up mid-way through. “It is difficult not to assume that the decision (to continue) has been driven by commercial arrangements,” Howard Wells, the founding chief executive of UK Sport, told the Times of London.
Any decision to call off the Games would be taken jointly between the IOC, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the Japanese government, the Tokyo Metropolitan government, and the International Paralympic Committee.
Olympics becomes a super-spreader event — just not in Japan
While there are strict rules for Olympians entry into Japan, it’s up to each home country to set the rules for the return of their athletes. In other words, there’s no standard system for controlling whether the athletes and officials take Covid home with them. In fact, the athletes are required to leave Japan within 48 hours of of their competition ending — potentially recreating, at a global scale, the sort of super-spreader rush that occurred in March 2020 when then-President Donald Trump urged Americans home before imposing travel restrictions. The bottom line: We’ll only know in four to six weeks.