What happens if Japan cancels the Olympics?

The Japanese public is strongly against holding the Olympic games later this summer, but the IOC is adamant that the games are going to happen:

Assuming the Japanese government is representing the will of its people, why can’t Japan they unilaterally shut this down? What happens if they just lock the gates on the venues and warn people not to bother traveling to Japan?

If they cancel the Olympics there won’t be an Olympics this year. That is it.

The IOC is apparently determined to stage an Olympics. (I’m going to be cynical and assume there are willing to risk lives because of the money that is involved.)

I would assume that if Japan refuses to host the Olympics, the IOC will quickly find another, more desperate, country that will be willing to act as a host.

It is unclear to me it will happen, that a majority athletes will compete or be permitted to do so.

If it is cancelled, presumably it will either be rescheduled or skipped. No doubt Japan would get another chance soon. If it occurs, there will be much potential criticism depending on events no one can really predict. Presumably most of the live audience would be Japanese. But who will they be watching?

Acting as an Olympic host is no simple thing. You can’t just spin up a Summer Olympics somewhere else in a few months. I think if Japan were to cancel then there is no 2020 Olympics and Paris 2024 is next in line.

Haven’t they already said that no foreign visitors will be allowed? I thought that was decided months ago. In any case, the real money is in TV and sponsors. I suppose they could postpone it for another year, but I predict they will just cancel them.

The logistics of hosting an Olympics in the last few decades has required years of planning and construction. Even if you scaled down the festivities dramatically and did roughly the bare minimum to have enough venues and housing to host athletes, coaches, press and, workers, I don’t think you could pull it off in random desperate country in a few months.

Recent countries that have hosted could perhaps polish up their facilities enough to host again soon but let’s look at the list of recent hosts:

  • Rio de Janeiro (2016) - horrifying Covid numbers. Would be hard for foreigners to be safe there so I don’t think the IOC would want Rio to host. .
  • London (2012) - They have their own travel restrictions and I doubt they would want to host
  • Beijing (2008) - They originally planned to repurpose the Bird’s Nest stadium and other facilities but the Bird’s Nest at least is still around. They have plenty of hotels. Maybe this could work if they wanted to save the Olympics. It wouldn’t be easy though and I don’t know if they would want to remind everyone of their role in the pandemic by hosting a slipshod Olympics.
  • Athens (2004) - Their entire economy collapsed in the meantime and I don’t see Greece spending a bunch to host the Olympics again.
  • Sydney (2000) - Australia worked pretty hard to get Covid under control;. I don’t see them being interested.
  • Atlanta (1996) - Who in their right minds would pick the US to host with our infection rates? Not going to happen.
  • Barcelona (1992) - The facilities were basically ruins ten years ago. Not going to happen.

If Japan cancels against the IOC’s wishes, I don’t see them being first in line until everyone at the IOC who is angry about the Japan’s decision has left the organization, feet first, if necessary.

They should take this as an opportunity to make one permanent Olympic site. Forget this bribery and corruption infested selection process, take out the politics. Just have one permanent site for summer and one for winter games. It doesn’t actually have to be Greece.

That’s an interesting idea though the IOC would surely never want to do that. If it’s in one country it would risk becoming less relevant and more parochial.

I suspect the real reason the organisers are so desperate to keep it on (apart from the investment already made) is the sponsorship. Cancelling would mean repaying enormous sums to the likes of Visa and Coca-Cola as well as broadcasters and who knows how many other partners. Money I suspect the IOC and Japan do not have or are not willing to give up - and how do they decide who is liable?

Japan and the IOC are hoping that a successful games will evaporate all the cynicism. It usually does, but this is a totally different situation and there are a LOT more cynics who aren’t just nay-saying because they don’t like sport.

I disagree. Most countries could throw together a half-assed sports venue in quick order.

Would it be up to Olympics standards? Well, here’s the thing; Olympics standards are whatever the IOC says they are. If the IOC says a local high school gym is an acceptable venue for an Olympic event, then it is.

Just because Olympics have been done at that level doesn’t mean they have to be done at that level.

I guess what I’m asking is this:

It appears that Japan, being in physical control of the venues, would have the ultimate power to derail the games. So why are they not doing so? Does the arrangements between the IOC and Japan invoke some kind of terrible financial or legal consequence for Japan (above and beyond the loss of anticipated revenue) if they just lock their doors and pretend they’re not home?

Except it’s not just one venue that’s needed, but multiple, many of which are highly specialized. In most past host cities, the facilities aren’t even reused, as they’re that specialized.

You’re right to be cynical about the IOC, but I think that the Japanese government is also determined to stage the Olympics over the protests of their populace. There’s just too much money at stake that they will lose out on. And we all know that money is more important than people’s lives [/sarcasm]

However, I disagree on your second assertion. It’s not a trivial task for a country to just cobble up enough regulation-size football fields, basketball courts, indoor arenas, etc. for the number of athletes and countries that will be attending. Not to mention the more niche venues like velodromes and equestrian courses. These take years of planning and construction like Tired_and_Cranky said, that’s why Olympics are awarded seven years in advance.


Sure, they could do that, but then the Olympics will suffer a major blow to its credibility as an institution. What companies would want to pay ad dollars for a backyard competition?


But then how will they extract their sweet, sweet bribe money? :smirk: Not gonna happen, given human nature.


According to this article, Japan will have to pay back $1.3 billion for the IOC’s contribution to their pre-Olympics expenditures, as well as another estimated $1.5 billion for lost broadcasting revenues.

I feel you’re overestimated the scarcity of these facilities. Olympic athletes obviously don’t show up at the Olympic venue and say “Wow, so this is a regulation competition pool. First time I’ve been in one of these. Hope I do well.”

These facilities exist all over the world for training and regional competitions. They may not be up the level as facilities built for an Olympic games but they would serve if needed. You could probably go to a normal college campus and find the facilities you’d need to carry out Olympic competitions.

The financial consequences goes well beyond Japan and may severely impact poorer countries who have spent a lot of money and time preparing their athletes. At some level, countries and individual athletes hope that they’ll be able to gain fame and monetary gain from doing well in the Olympics.

Back to the financial side, countries and companies have spent a lot money preparing for the broadcast, upgrading their equipment and studios. I don’t know if anyone other than Japan is going to broadcast in 8K, but at least the recording capability and potential playback for many non-Japan broadcasters much be in place.

Then there’s the advertising revenue. Commercial time is bought years ahead. And reduced country /athlete participation will severely impact the per viewer value of the commercials.

Then there’s the international political impact. Japan may well be justified for health and safety reasons to cancel or limit the audience, but it would be a huge black eye to the country, especially with their perceived xenophobia. Short of a massive influx of foreigners to the country prior to the event, if the audience is limited to Japanese citizens only, the cheering and encouragement will be hugely skewed to Japan and possibly other favored Asian countries.

Answered above. But I don’t see why they aren’t negotiating to delay the Olympics until next summer. It’s not ideal from the IOC point of view but should be better than nothing. Not working this out has so far been bad PR for both Japan and the IOC.

You also need really advanced broadcast facilities and thousands of available hotel rooms.

Hooooo-boy, I can hear the cries of Sakako when Japan closed itself to foreigners. It would be absolute political suicide. Despite it’s positioning as a non-political event, the modern Olympics has always been used for political purposes, both pro and con.

On the financial side, there would be a huge backlash. “Don’t want us there?”, “Fine, we don’t need you or your products either!”

Easiest “oh shit move the Olympics by this August” is probably Los Angeles.

Their 2028 bid didn’t have much new construction. Looking at their plans, they have one permanent site not done, and several temporary sites planned. Those are likely doable to a minimal standard.

They need to put a running track back in the USC stadium, do something for swimming/diving (planned to be at USC baseball, but UCLA or USC can likely take them), some temporary facilities for water polo, bmx, and mountain biking, beach volleyball.

Canoe slalom looks like they might be the biggest problem as a course and stands need constructing. Move it… somewhere else?

London could probably step in as well considering all the sporting facilities, spare hotel rooms and broadcasting facilities currently exist. But parts of the UK are currently facing a delicate situation with the Indian variant and the country would not support even a massively scaled-back Olympic circus in town. The UK’s vaccination programme is well ahead of Japan’s and should even have finished with all adults, but the public appetite would probably be little different from Japan’s, so essentially it would face the same issues. And it would feel patched together and a bit crappy and unconnected.

So it’s either Japan or nowhere I suspect.