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, IOC President Thomas Bach will join a number of Japanese government and city officials, local organizers, and other top International Olympic Committee 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 on Thursday 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 organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto has acknowledged the word's not getting out.
“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, The Associated Press reported.
"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 says 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 pubic 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.
Keeping domestic sponsors on board is financially critical. Recruited by the giant Japanese advertising agency Dentsu Inc., domestic sponsors have paid a record of $3.3 billion — at least twice any previous Olympics — to the local organizing committee. This is over and above a dozen permanent Olympic sponsors who have signed long-term with the IOC. Some also have individual contracts with Tokyo organizers.