Organizers of this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo are openly seeking statements of support from U.S. leaders to help convince a skeptical Japanese public and the world that they should move forward amid the pandemic.
They received one on Wednesday from Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who also was head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“Hold the Tokyo Olympic Games,” Romney tweeted in response to comments from Tokyo leaders. Romney had pushed forward with the Utah games at a time when many wondered if bringing in crowds was safe only a few months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“Athletes have trained a lifetime to be at their peak,” Romney added. “Limit in-person spectators — most of us watch the Games on TV anyway. The world awaits the inspiration of great competition and global sportsmanship.”
His statement came after a Wall Street Journal story on Thursday reported that salvaging this year’s games, scheduled to start on July 23, may depend on how strong support is from the United States and from President Joe Biden.
“Mr. Biden is dealing with a tough situation with the coronavirus,” said Haruyuki Takahashi, a member of the executive board of Japan’s Olympic organizing committee. “But if he makes a positive statement about the Olympics going ahead, we’d gain strong momentum.”
The United States brings the most athletes to the Olympics and also offers the richest pot of television money.
The Journal also noted that America also is Japan’s ally and military protector, so an expression of determination to push ahead would be influential with a skeptical Japanese public and reassure other countries that aren’t sure about sending athletes to Tokyo.
Uncertainty over the games is rising as virus cases have rebounded in many countries and vaccinations have been slow. The Times of London reported last week that Japan has given up on hosting the Olympics this year, but Japanese officials called the report “categorically untrue.”
On the 17th anniversary of the Salt Lake games, Michael Huerta — who planned transportation for those games and later became chief of the Federal Aviation Administration — talked about some of the fears that world leaders had then about proceeding with those games.
He said many countries feared for the safety of their athletes and were reluctant to send them, forcing the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to work hard to calm their worries — including private briefings to share secret intelligence plans.
He said they also considered perhaps televising events with no one in the stands. However, he said officials ruled against that because “the whole purpose of the Olympics is to bring people together and try to make sure it is a celebration of the human spirit and international collaboration.”