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Japan Insists Tokyo Olympic Games Will Take Place Despite Pandemic Uncertainty


Organizers promise that the Tokyo Olympics, delayed because of the pandemic, will happen this summer. But much of Japan is in a state of emergency, and no one there has even been vaccinated yet. Here's NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: On Friday, government spokesman Manabu Sakai denied an anonymously sourced report by the British newspaper The Times that the Japanese government itself has privately given up on the games and will try to save face by bidding for the next available slot in 2032. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated before Parliament Friday that he's determined to make the games happen. And International Olympic Chief Thomas Bach said Thursday that there is no Plan B. One of the Olympics' most vocal critics, author Ryu Honma, says Japanese officials feel they've invested too much money and prestige in the games to pull out now.

RYU HONMA: (Speaking Japanese).

KUHN: "Once they've made the decision, they can never reverse it," he says, "even if they realize it's wrong." "Nobody wants to take responsibility for canceling it," he adds.

In a private speech this month, Tokyo Organizing Committee Chief Yoshiro Mori admitted he doesn't know if the games will go ahead or not but added that he can't voice his doubts in public. Japan's biggest cities, Tokyo and Osaka, and several other prefectures are currently under a state of emergency until at least February 7. The government will probably have to make its decision before the Olympic torch relay begins March 25. A Kyodo News Agency poll this month found about 80% of Japanese think the games should either be cancelled or postponed. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in a tweet they hadn't heard anything suggesting that the games aren't happening, and so they continue to train and prepare.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul.

SOUNDBITE OF TOE'S "TREMOLO AND DELAY" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.