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Doubts about the Tokyo 2021 Olympics and Paralympics

Pink and blue stuffed toys bearing the Olympic logos

Photo Source: Tin Long Yeung, Mascots of the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, Flicker (June 15, 2019) (CC BY-SA 2.0).

By: Matthew Oakley*                                                Posted: 03/27/2021                   

The global pandemic has not been the only event to interfere with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.[1] During the second week of February 2021, a wave of doubt cast over Japan as the president of the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee resigned and a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck a sensitive region.[2] Furthermore, there has been domestic disagreement towards the government for hosting the Olympics amidst a pandemic.[3] If the games get cancelled, the Japanese government and other involved hosts could lose approximately 1.64 trillion Japanese yen (approx. $15.6 billion).[4] If the games happen, Japan could risk a super-spreader event that would jeopardize their already stressed healthcare system.[5]  This blog provides an overview of the events frustrating the Olympic games and discusses the impact on Japan if the Olympics are cancelled.[6]

President of Olympic Committee Resigns

On February 12, 2021, Yoshiro Mori, the former prime minister of Japan, resigned as president of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee after global outrage over sexist remarks he made about women.[7] When discussing the Japanese Olympic Committee's goal of increasing the number of female board directors, Mori discussed how more women on the board would increase the length of the meetings.[8] With regard to more women at the meetings, Mori stated, “[w]hen someone raises his or her hand and speaks, they probably think they should speak, too. That is why they all end up making comments.”[9] Rather than condemn Mori, members at the meeting laughed at his remarks.[10] While Mori expressed he would not resign during a conference the day after he made these statements, people from around the world took to social media platforms, like Twitter, to call Mori and the other members out, for their portrayal of gender-inequality and called for Mori to resign.[11] As social media carried the day and achieved Mori’s resignation, the organizing committee was set to ask Japan’s Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto to be the new president of the committee.[12] On February 18, Hashimoto accepted the nomination marking a great progression for Japan’s gender-equality campaign and also seems quite fitting because she was named after the Olympic Flame (Seika).[13] However, this marking of gender progression did not last long when the creative director for the opening ceremony of the Olympics, Hiroshi Sasaki, resigned when he compared a woman to a pig.[14] The committee’s sexist problems cannot be fixed by putting a band-aid on it in the form of appointing women to leadership roles, there needs to be an institutional change in how women are treated and valued to rid the committee’s image as a “old men’s club”.[15]

Earthquake Rattles Fukushima Region

On February 13, 2021, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit the Fukushima region, which is where the previous 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused a nuclear meltdown.[16] While no deaths were reported for the most recent quake, more than 100 people were injured, and a subsequent landslide caused a main highway to close down.[17] Luckily, the earthquake did not cause any radiation leaks from the two nuclear plants that had been deactivated following the 2011 meltdown.[18] Nonetheless, Japan took safety precautions and powered down the active nuclear plants to ensure the plants would not suffer damage and subsequently leak radiation.[19] As a result, approximately 950,000 homes were powerless and many of the residents were left with a painful reminder of the catastrophe that happened in 2011.[20] Amidst this painful reminder remains Japan’s efforts to restore the region as it has already spent more than $353 billion to clean up and repair the damage from the 2011 earthquake[21] Many residents of Fukushima are displeased with Japan’s willingness to host the 2020 Olympics when they believe the $25 billion spent on the Olympics should have been used to help the victims of the nuclear catastrophe.[22] Regardless of your position of whether Japan should cancel the Olympics or not, it is hard to justify spending billions on hosting the Olympics when many residents in Fukushima are still struggling to recover from events that happened almost ten years ago.[23]

Prefecture Governor May Cancel Olympic Torch Relay

On February 17, 2021, Governor Tatsuya Maruyama of the Shimane Prefecture stated if the situation with the pandemic does not improve, he may prevent the torch relay from passing through the Shimane Prefecture.[24] The torch relay is set to begin on March 25 in Fukushima, where the recent earthquake put a damper on Japan’s efforts to restore the region.[25] As the plan currently stands, the torch relay will pass through 859 municipalities in all 47 prefectures.[26] While Governor Maruyama expressed concern with the pandemic and cancelling the torch relay, he did not endorse cancelling the Olympics nor has any prefecture governor said anything about cancelling the Olympics.[27] Some of Governor Maruyama’s concerns stem from the fact that Japan is lagging behind in dispersing the COVID-19 vaccination.[28] It is not only Governor Maruyama expressing concerns about the worsening of COVID-19, but some of the athletes and volunteers that make up some 10,000 runners that will traverse the torch across Japan also expressed concerns and pulled out of the relay.[29] Japan began inoculation on February 17, 2021, after securing a deal with Pfizer for 144 million doses of the vaccine.[30] Even though Japan has a timeline for getting the vaccine to its general population by the start of the Olympics, millions of doses of the vaccine could be wasted because of a shortage of special syringe that extract the dosages from the vials.[31] If more governors express concern over the torch relay and Japan continues to face challenges in rolling out vaccines to the general population by the start of the Olympics, it could put pressure on Japan to cancel the Olympics.[32]

What the Games Mean for Japan

If the games happen and a spike in cases results, it could turn into a nightmare event that Japan’s healthcare system would not be able to handle.[33] While Japan’s healthcare system has the reputation for being one of the best, it is arguably one of the worst for handling COVID-19.[34] Japan has 13.1 hospital beds per 1000 people, the highest out of any country; but because of this large number of beds, Japan has .18 doctors per bed.[35] Furthermore, private hospitals make up about 80% of the total hospitals in Japan, but only 23% of private hospitals treat for COVID-19 because it requires double the staff.[36] Japan doesn’t have the legal authority to force private hospitals to take in COVID-19 patients, so these private institutions have the right to refuse them.[37] Thus, if the games happen and a subsequent spike occurs from the tens of thousands of people travelling to Japan from around the world, it would put immense stress on Japan’s healthcare system that would most likely require international support.[38]

If Japan cancels the games, the cancellation could have serious economic consequences on Japan and the Olympics in general.[39] While Japan reported spending $15.6 billion to host the games, some officials close to the committee have suggested that the figure is actually closer to $25 billion because of the costs incurred from delays and mishaps with stadiums.[40] Furthermore, 4.4 million spectator tickets have been sold and are valued near $800 million.[41] On March 20th, 2021, the Olympic Committee announced that spectators from abroad will not be allowed to view the Olympics.[42] Of the millions of spectator tickets sold, about 600,000 tickets were sold to spectators outside of Japan.[43] The Olympic Committee promised refunds, but it is not clear how spectators will be refunded because third party ticket sellers handled the selling of abroad tickets.[44] The pandemic had caused Japan’s economy to have its worst performance since 1955, but their economy has seen positive growth over the last three months.[45] With Japan still in a second state of emergency and delays with vaccine distribution, their economic growth doesn’t seem sustainable and the cancellation of the Olympics would put massive stress on the already fragile economy.[46]

*Staff Writer, Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal, J.D. Candidate, May 2022, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.


[1] See Kelly Cohen, Tokyo 2020 Olympics officially postponed until 2021, ESPN (Mar. 24, 2020), (noting despite Olympics being postponed till 2021, they will still be called 2020 Olympics).

[2] See Blake Essig, Junko Ogura, & Chie Kobayaski, An earthquake at the Olympic torch relay start point is just the beleaguered Tokyo 2020 Games’ latest crisis, CNN (Feb. 15, 2021), (discussing how these latest events add to frustration that resulted in abandoning a proposed $2 billion national stadium and a plagiarized Olympic logo).

[3] See Associated Press, 80% say Tokyo Olympics shouldn't, won't happen, ESPN (Jan. 11, 2021), (“More than 80% of people in Japan who were surveyed in two polls in the last few days say the Tokyo Olympics should be canceled or postponed, or say they believe the Olympics will not take place.”)

[4] See Estimated economical loss of Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Japan as of January 2021, by scenario, STATISTA (Feb. 11, 2021),

[5] See D’Arcy Maine, Are the Tokyo Olympics really going to happen?, ESPN (Feb. 17, 2021) (noting how vaccines are not required and tens of thousands of athletes and officials will be travelling from around the world to Japan).

[6] For further discussion of the events and impacts, see infra notes 8–41 and accompanying text.

[7] See Motoko Rich, Hikari Hida & Makiko Inoue, Tokyo Olympics Chief Apologizes for Remarks Demeaning Women, NY TIMES (Feb. 3, 2021), (“The president, Yoshiro Mori, stoked a social media backlash after news reports emerged of his comments demeaning women during an executive meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee that was held online.”)

[8] See id. (discussing how Mori was responding to a question about the Olympic’s committee’s plan to increase the number of women members).

[9] Mori: Talkative women cause time-consuming meetings, Asahi Shimbun (Feb. 4, 2021),

[10] See id. (“Mori has a long history of making insensitive and offensive remarks”).

[11] See Rich supra note 7 (“On social media, amid the calls for Mr. Mori’s resignation, others expressed dismay not only with his comments but that no one in the meeting had objected in the moment.”)

[12] See Olympic minister Hashimoto nominated for Tokyo games chief, KYODO News (Feb. 17, 2021), (highlighting how Hashimoto has expressed reluctance to accepting the position because it would mean stepping down from her current roles as Olympic minister and minister of gender equality).

[13] See id. (explaining how not only is she named after the Olympic Flame, but Hashimoto also “appeared at seven Olympics between 1984 and 1996, competing in speed skating at four Winter Games and cycling at three Summer Games.”); see also Motoko Rich, After Leader’s Sexist Remark, Tokyo Olympics Makes Symbolic Shift, NY TIMES (Feb. 18, 2021), (discussing how the leader of the online campaign to remove Mori thinks that this is a superficial appointment that won’t make change or empower women in Japan).

[14] See Makiko Inoue, Motoko Rich, & Tiffany May, Tokyo Olympics Official Resigns After Calling Plus-Size Celebrity ‘Olympig’, NY TIMES (Mar. 20, 2021), (Sasaki “envisioned a popular comedian and plus-size fashion designer, Naomi Watanabe, decked out in pig ears, tumbling from the sky as an Olympic messenger.”).

[15] See id. (noting that the committee thinks it is repairing its image by appoint female leaders).

[16] See Motoko Rich & Ben Dooley, Powerful Quake Hits Japan, Evoking a Worrisome Memory, NY TIMES (Feb. 13, 2021), (noting how Japan is coming up on the “10th anniversary of what is known as the Great East Japan earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster”).

[17] See id. (presenting how the 2011 earthquake killed over 16,000 people and displaced more than 160,000 people).

[18] See id. (noting there was a small leak from a tank that contained contaminated water, but that the leak was insignificant and immediately contained).

[19] See id. (discussing how Japan immediately set up a response team to manage the resulting damage).

[20] See id. (highlighting how residents of the region could experience after-shocks for a week following the earthquake and would be without power and train services for up to 10 days).

[21] See Essig supra note 2 (noting how the Japanese government is saying that restoration efforts are complete while Fukushima residents are telling reports that over 30,000 residents are displaced and there continues to be restricted areas due to radiation levels).

[22] See id. (discussing how a number of activist groups have mobilized to promote awareness of the need for more restoration efforts and these groups’ disagreement with Japan hosting the Olympics).

[23] See id. (discussing how pandemic created logistical problems that is increasing price to host, while decreasing potential for revenue from hosting Olympics).

[24] See Eric Johnston, Shimane governor threatens to cancel participation in Olympic torch relay, Japan Times (Feb. 17, 2021), (noting Shimane is one of Japan’s smallest Prefectures).

[25] For a discussion of how the recent earthquake has impacted the area and its residents, see supra notes 16-23 and accompanying text.

[26] See Johnston supra note 24 (highlighting Shimane Prefecture “has so far had only 280 coronavirus cases in total, while Tokyo, with a population of over 14 million, has had 108,337 cases”).

[27] See id. (explaining how Japanese government is working with governors “to ensure measures to prevent the spreading of infections were taken.”)

[28] See Mary Yamaguchi, Japan starts COVID-19 vaccinations with eye on Olympics, Associated Press (Feb. 17, 2021), (discussing reason Japan lagged behind other countries was because “it had asked vaccine maker Pfizer to conduct clinical trials with Japanese people”).

[29] See Torch relay struggles highlights hurdles for pandemic Olympics, Japan Times (Mar. 20, 2021), (discussing how the torch relay has already been delayed and is subject to more delays with runners pulling out and the potential for large crowds to stall the relay).

[30] See Kiyoshi Takenaka, Syringe shortage hampers Japan’s COVID-19 vaccination roll out, Reuters (Feb. 15, 2021), (noting how 144 million doses is only enough for 72 million people when Japan has a population of 126 million).

[31] See id. (“The government has made urgent requests, but manufacturers are struggling to ramp up production fast enough”).

[32] See Johnston supra note 24 (presenting how Governor Maruyama’s comments “could create a political domino effect among other local governors worried about their own ability to respond to increased infections if the Tokyo Games go forward”).

[33] See Osamu Tsukimori, Leading world in hospital bed availability, Japan still taxed by COVID-19, Japan Times (Feb 2, 2021), (“[D]espite the relatively low number of cases, prefectures currently under a state of emergency are seeing about 70% of their hospital beds for virus patients occupied, causing serious strain on the medical system.”)

[34] See id. (discussing how resources and manpower are too dispersed to efficiently control virus).

[35] See id. (noting how Japan’s doctor per bed ration is “lower than the 0.93, 0.54 and 1.12 seen in the U.S., Germany and U.K.”).

[36] See id. (discussing how “[i]n Europe, public hospitals account for 70% to 80% of hospital facilities, so governments can easily order them to increase bed capacity to deal with the pandemic”).

[37] See id. (noting how Japanese government may be passing legislation that gives them more authority over private hospitals).

[38] See id. (explaining how without Olympic games, there is already an immense amount of stress on Japan’s healthcare system).

[39] See Jim Morris, Too much money at stake for Tokyo Games to be cancelled, says Olympic expert, CBC Sports (Feb. 8, 2021), (discussing how revenues generated from media contracts gets trickled down to Olympic committees, which financially support smaller countries athletic programs).

[40] See John Duerden, Commentary: There is no shame in cancelling the Olympics now when options remain, CNA (Jan. 30, 2021), (highlighting reluctance to cancel Olympics because of Japan’s massive investment).

[41] See id. (noting $800 million loss does not fall directly on Japan, but they would suffer from the loss of business from spectators if the games are cancelled or spectators are not allowed).

[42] See Associated Press, Spectators from abroad to be barred from Tokyo Olympics, ESPN (Mar. 20, 2021), (discussing how officials determined the risk was too great to let spectators from abroad travel to Japan).

[43] See id. (discussing how to decision to block fans from abroad was unavoidable).

[44] See id. (discussing the uncertainty around ticket refunds is because the ticket vendors charge a 20% markup on the ticket price).

[45] See Ben Dooley & Makiko Inoue, Japan’s Growth Rebounds, but Virus-Related Weakness Looms, N.Y. Times (Feb. 14, 2021), (discussing how the growth was significant but could easily be disrupted).

[46] See id. (noting how second state of emergency will decrease consumer spending and these repeated shocks of consumption coupled with a vaccine delay won’t be offset by any sort of stimulus program).