London 2012 chief Sir Keith Mills has poured fresh doubt on whether the delayed Tokyo Olympics will take place, insisting rising coronavirus rates make it “unlikely” to happen.
Tokyo organisers and the International Olympic Committee are adamant the Games will start in July despite a fresh wave of infections sweeping the globe.
Mills told BBC Radio Five Live: “Sitting here and looking at the pandemic around the world, in South America, in North America, in Africa and across Europe, it looks unlikely.
“If I was sitting in the shoes of the organising committee in Tokyo, I would be making plans for a cancellation and I’m sure they have plans for a cancellation.
“I think they will leave it until absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically, in case the vaccinations roll out faster than we all hope.”
A state of emergency has been extended in Japan to combat rising coronavirus rates, while a recent news agency poll suggested up to 80 per cent of Tokyo residents think the Games will be either cancelled or postponed again.
But World Athletics president Lord Coe is confident the event will go ahead this year.
“I don’t think it will be cancelled,” Coe, 64, told Sky News. “It is going to be a challenge, we know that, it is pretty self-evident and there will be adaptions.
“But of all the countries on the planet that has the fortitude and the resilience to see this through, it is Japan. I wake up as a federation president grateful that Japan is dealing with this and not some other places I could think of.
“I am sure there will be big issues with crowds, and just think about the Olympic Village, too. You have got 10,500 athletes and another 7,000 support staff in there. They are all wanting to eat at the same time, and that is just a slither of the challenge.
“For the athletes it will be a different experience. I think the Games will take place but they will look different.”
Despite Coe’s optimism, the current situation makes it hugely difficult for athletes to prepare for the Games, and Steve Parry, a bronze medallist for Britain in the 200 metres butterfly in 2004, says there is a desperate need for clarity.
“They need a deadline – the International Olympic Committee need to say ‘we will make a call by this date’ because the worst thing is to be in limbo,” Parry, the founder of Sporting House, told the PA news agency.
“I thought the Games were going to go on in 2020, but infection rates are leading to an extended period of uncertainty globally.
“When you have people in Japan saying they are not comfortable with the Games going ahead, that puts real pressure on the organisers and the IOC.”
Other Olympians such as rowing gold medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent have suggested pushing Tokyo back to 2024, with future hosts Paris and Los Angeles going back to 2028 and 2032 respectively.
Parry does not feel that would be the best approach.
“Athletes understand what cycle they’re in,” he said.
“I think they would just have to strike it off, say ‘we’re done’. And that is hugely disappointing for those people that were going to host them.”
Cancellation of the Games would also have a big impact on the national psyche in Parry’s opinion.
“For a country of 60-70million we have dominated, we were second on the medal table last time,” he said.
“It’s a huge source of national pride. It’s easy to dismiss that and say ‘this is elite sport, it doesn’t really matter’ but the fact of the matter is we achieve greater participation when we see national heroes performing like Rebecca Adlington, Chris Hoy, Mo Farah and so on.”
Tokyo 2020 organising committee spokesman Masa Takaya said last week there had never been a discussion about a further delay to this summer’s Games or a cancellation.