The Summer Games, already postponed from last year, are a central part of Comcast-owned NBCUniversal’s strategy for the summer and the coming season, as the media giant just last week pitched an elaborate schedule of coverage across network platforms as part of the advertising upfront presentation. Following the State Department advisory, a spokesperson for NBC Sports said that plans had not changed.
The U.S. Olympic Committee has not yet commented on how the advisory will affect plans for athletes to attend the Games, scheduled to begin on July 23, less than two months from now. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There has been opposition in Tokyo to proceeding with the Olympics, including protests in that city. But Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, and Japanese Prime Minister Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga have been adamant about holding the games, albeit with a lesser number of people likely attending. The government has recently announced steps to try to accelerate the rollout of its vaccine program, which has been slower than in the U.S.
John Coates, the IOC vice president in charge of the Tokyo Olympics, said last week the Games would open even if Tokyo and other parts of Japan were under a state of emergency because of Covid-19. Coates said the Games would go on even if Japan’s local medical experts advised against holding the Olympics.
“The advice we have from the (World Health Organization) and all other scientific and medical advice that we have, is that — all the measures we have outlined, all of those measures that we are undertaking, are satisfactory and will ensure a safe and secure Games in terms of health,” Coates said. “And that’s the case whether there is a state of emergency or not.”
Other IOC officials have previously set an end-of-June deadline for a decision on continuing with the Games. If the events do not take place, they will be canceled instead of postponed, as they were in 2020.
Japanese opinion polls indicate the populace is largely against against opening the Olympics on July 23. Japan is still largely unvaccinated, with just an estimated 2% undergoing the treatment.
Infections in Japan peaked in January 2021, with 154,355 new cases and 2,461 deaths recorded. Numbers dropped after that high but, over the past 30 days, have jumped again to what would be a single-month record of 161,549 new cases and a near-record of 2,431 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The new U.S. State Department advisory reads, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for Japan due to COVID-19, indicating a very high level of COVID-19 in the country. There are restrictions in place affecting U.S. citizen entry into Japan.”
One such restriction is quarantine. The U.S. Embassy in Japan notes the following, which is still applicable to vaccinated individuals:
Regardless of the international point of origin, all travelers entering Japan remain subject to a 14-day self-quarantine upon arrival and are prohibited from using public transportation to include domestic flights, taxis, and rail. Travelers arriving from certain areas may be required to quarantine for a period of time in a government-designated location.
Now imagine you’re an Olympic athlete traveling to Japan for the games. You’ve been honing your skills for years to compete against the best in the world. You’ve been pacing your training precisely so that you are at the peak of your powers in late July 2021. And then you have to enter a two-week quarantine just before the aforementioned peak. No in-person work with trainers. No access to workout facilities upon arrival. No chance acclimate to the venue in which you will compete.
Such quarantines could be especially impactful given that the U.S., Great Britain and China — the three countries with the highest medal counts in 2016 — are also three of the hardest-hit countries in the world. Japanese officials would likely monitor those delegations closely. Likewise those from Brazil, India, South Africa and most of Europe, which round out most of the top 15 medal-earners last time around.
In March, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts indicated that the company had insurance to protect against losses should the Olympics be cancelled. But the network would miss out on advertising revenue and a valuable promotional platform.