Tokyo needs to convince sponsors Olympics will really happen

TOKYO (AP) — The only thing more difficult than staging next year’s Tokyo Olympics in a pandemic might be convincing sponsors to keep their billions of dollars on board in the midst of economic turbulence and skepticism.

To make the point this week, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach will join a number of Japanese government and city officials, local organisers, and other top IOC leaders in repeating a message they’ve failed to convey forcefully enough to deep-pocketed sponsors: Trust us, the Tokyo Olympics will open on July 23, 2021.

Bach and IOC Vice President John Coates — who oversees Tokyo preparations — are expected to speak remotely to Japanese officials as they meet tomorrow and Friday. The agenda includes plotting countermeasures against COVID-19: quarantines, rules for athletes entering the country, testing, vaccines, and the presence or absence of fans.

Few firm details are expected until late in the year or early in 2021, which accounts for the uncertainty.

The subtext is assuring sponsors that the Olympics will happen. Tokyo organising committee CEO Toshiro Muto has acknowledged the word’s not getting out.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (R) is presented with the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) President’s trophy by AOC President John Coates at the AOC annual general meeting in Sydney, Australia on May 4, 2019. PHOTO: AP

“The fact the Olympics are going to take place — the fact itself — is not fully distributed to the public,” Muto, speaking in Japanese, said last week. “People need to be more convinced that, yes, the Olympics will be taking place for sure.”

A former deputy governor of the Bank of Japan, Muto has been vague about how many domestic sponsors are renewing their contracts. He said of the 68 sponsors: “They are all positive. We’re still in the middle of negotiations. We’re not in the phase of speaking about any concrete results.”

Surveys have shown a majority of Japanese companies and the public don’t think the Olympics will happen next year — or should happen. A poll published in June by Japanese broadcaster NHK said two-thirds of sponsors were undecided about extending for another year.