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Edo sports festival to go ahead, uncertainty over Tokyo Olympics

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This picture taken on January 19, 2021 shows detail on the forehead of Miraitowa, (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

The Main Organising Committee (MOC) for the 20th National Sports Festival, tagged Edo 2020, has given its nod for the fiesta to hold as scheduled from February 14 to 28.

The festival was earlier fixed for January 3, 2021, but the state government and some stakeholders kicked against it because of its closeness to the New Year festivities. It was initially slated for March 2020 but was postponed to December due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.

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Members of the MOC from Abuja had arrived in Benin City on Monday and embarked on tour of facilities alongside members of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) yesterday to ascertain Edo State’s level of preparedness to host the festival.

The Guardian learned that the MOC gave its nod for the sports festival to go as scheduled at the end of a marathon meeting with members of the LOC yesterday. “The MOC was satisfied with our level of compliance on COVID-19 protocols and other facilities we have on ground. So, the sports festival is going on as scheduled, an official of the LOC told The Guardian yesterday.

Some stakeholders were pushing for the suspension of the National Sports Festival due to the rising case of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Meanwhile, when members of the International Olympic Committee’s executive board dial into their first video conference of the year today, they will do so amid mounting uncertainty over this summer’s delayed Tokyo Games.

Last year’s unprecedented postponement was arguably the biggest peacetime decision ever taken in sport. But that would be completely overshadowed by an actual cancellation.

Such a seismic move would have profound consequences for Olympic and Paralympic sport and be a crushing disappointment for athletes across the world.

So far, Japan has escaped the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, with far fewer deaths than the tragic numbers suffered in other parts of the world.

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But once a state of emergency was declared in its capital two weeks ago following a record number of cases, and with public opinion appearing to turn against the Games, the sense of crisis intensified.

Olympic legend Sir Matthew Pinsent became the highest-profile former athlete to call for a cancellation, saying the idea of thousands of people flying round the world to gather, unvaccinated, in one place, was “ludicrous”. Tokyo, he suggested, should stage the Games in 2024 instead, with subsequent hosts Paris and Los Angeles both shifted back four years to accommodate the rejig.

With worries that the Games could worsen the country’s pandemic, Taro Kono then became the first Japanese cabinet minister to break ranks, admitting “anything could happen”, a message reinforced by senior IOC member Dick Pound, who said he too could not be certain it would go ahead.

Former London 2012 boss Sir Keith Mills added his voice, telling BBC Radio 5 Live that he believed the Olympics were now “unlikely” to be staged this year.

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The doubts swirling round Tokyo 2021 reached a new peak last week when the Times reported that, according to an unnamed Japanese government source, ministers had privately conceded the event would have to be cancelled, and they would now focus on securing the next available slot in 2032.

Spooked by the story, apparently furious organisers pushed back uncharacteristically hard, a series of statements from the Tokyo 2020 committee, the Japanese government, the IOC, and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) all insisting the Games would still be happening as planned.

IOC president Thomas Bach visited Japan late last year to look at the facilities for the Games

Insiders suggested there was a suspicion that, with a general election due in October, Japanese domestic politics may be behind the story.

Whether that is the case or not, expect more expressions of confidence when IOC president Thomas Bach addresses the media today.

Last week, he said there was currently “no reason whatsoever” to believe the Games would not start as planned in July, and that there was no need for a ‘Plan B’.

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