Are the Olympics canceled for 2021? Latest news on status, start date as COVID-19 spikes in Japan

By | June 3, 2021

The 2021 Olympics are less than two months away, but more than ever there’s uncertainty about whether the games will go on this year. 

COVID-19 cases in Japan are spiking, with the nation reporting at least 3,000 new cases every day dating to early April. The rising case counts prompted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to declare a state of emergency on April 25, and it has continuously been expanded, according to The Associated Press.

The Japan Times reported that on Tuesday, Japan health minister Norihisa Tamura said the government is discussing an extension in several prefectures, including Tokyo, while the Osaka Prefecture has requested an extension of the state of emergency through June 20. 

MORE: Doctors request cancellation of 2021 Olympics as COVID-19 spikes in Tokyo

With cases in the country on the rise, many in the nation and around the world have begun to wonder whether it would be in Japan’s best interest to postpone the Olympics. The games were already moved from late July 2020 to July 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

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Here’s the latest information on the status of the 2021 Summer Olympics. 

When are the Olympics in 2021? 

Opening Ceremony: Friday, July 23

Competition begins: Saturday, July 24

The Olympics are slated to begin in late July with the Opening Ceremony set for 7 a.m. ET on July 23 and the majority of the athletic competition to begin the following day, according to the Olympics’ website. There will be a few soccer and softball games, as well as archery preliminary rounds, held before July 23, but most of the games will not start until after the Opening Ceremony. 

The games will run through Aug. 8 with a closing ceremony set for 7 a.m. that morning. 

Latest Olympics news, updates for 2021 Summer Games

June 3

About an eighth of the volunteers who signed up to help with the Olympics and Paralympics have reportedly quit. 

According to a report from NHK News in Japan, about 10,000 of the 80,000 total volunteers for the Tokyo games have withdrawn from their roles, as of Tuesday. 

The report said that while some left because of remarks viewed as derogatory toward women by organizing committee chairman Mori Yoshiro, it has continued over concern for COVID-19 infection or other work environment changes. 

Committee director General Muto Toshiro said in the report that there is no concern over the withdrawal of volunteers as it might just mean that some will work for both major events. 

May 26

On Monday, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory to Americans to not travel to Japan because of the coronavirus spikes in the nation. It has Japan listed at a Level 4: Do Not Travel on its list of travel advisories

It is not in rare company at Level 4. There are 151 other countries or areas against which the State Department recommends traveling. 

However, according to a report by Yahoo! Sports, this will not affect the Olympics. Japan’s Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa said during a Tuesday news conference that “at present, we can see no particular impact,” while Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said that Japan has been in contact with the U.S. and “there is absolutely no change in the United States’ support for Japan’s decision to hold the Olympics,” according ot the report. 

That hasn’t stopped public outcry in Japan from calling for the Olympics’ cancellation. On Wednesday, Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s major newspapers and an Olympic partner, officially called for the games to be canceled, becoming the largest newspaper to make the call. 

Asahi Shimbun’s decision to come out against the games comes just over a week after the paper published a poll finding that 43 percent of respondents said the games should be canceled and 40 percent called for them to be postponed. 

The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, a group of around 6,000 Tokyo-based doctors, called for the games to be canceled because of the rising case counts, saying that the city has almost no room for more coronavirus cases at present, before Tokyo would welcome in visitors from across the world. 

Members of the International Olympic Committee aren’t concerned. IOC chairman of the coordination commission and vice president John Coates said that even in a state of emergency, “the answer is absolutely yes” that the Olympics would continue as planned, according to a report from SportsPro

“The advice we have got from the World Health Organization and all of the scientific advice is that all the measures we have outlined in the playbook, all those measures are satisfactory to ensure a safe and secure Games in terms of health, and that’s whether there is a state of emergency or not,” he said in the report. 

Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, told CNN that canceling the Olympics is “essentially off the table” and that the games would be held in a bubble. 

In CNN’s report, Pound said that there will be attempts to make sure the bubble can be maintained daily and that they will “identify any indications that there may be some people having the virus that are there. They’ll be put into isolation right away.”

An article in the New England Journal Of Medicine criticized the IOC’s plans, saying that they are “not built on scientifically rigorous risk assessment.” The article called on the WHO to create an emergency committee to develop a plan for the Olympics, similar to what happened before the Brazil Olympics in 2016 over concerns for the Zika virus. 

The lead author of the article, Dr. Annie Sparrow, told The New York Times that there is a way to hold the Olympics safely and that “it’s basic medical science. But that’s what the IOC has ignored, and I don’t know if they’re going to start paying attention now.”