The International Olympic Committee, thanks to its vast reserves, and international federations, many of which have borrowed money, can cope with the postponement of the Tokyo Games, but a cancellation would have disastrous consequences, experts say.
Cushioned by a dozen or so wealthy sponsors, including the French IT group Atos which has just extended its partnership until 2024, and with marketing contracts and television rights still on the rise, the IOC’s future looks steady.
With backing of almost one billion dollars, the IOC “has large reserves and insurance so I don’t think it is in danger”, says Jean-Loup Chappelet, professor emeritus at the Lausanne-based Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration and a specialist in the Olympic movement.
But the effort the IOC will have to put in to help both the Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee and international federations deprived of almost all competitions in 2020 — and therefore of income — will weigh heavily.
In May, the IOC anounced a fund of $800 million (740 million euros), with $650 million destined to help cover costs of the postponement of the Games and the remaining $150 million to support the Olympic movement, including federations.
By July 15, international federations had already received $60 million in aid as they struggle with financial problems.
While the staging of the Games in its new July-August 2021 slot remains at the mercy of the coronavirus pandemic, Tokyo organisers and the IOC are prepared to pull out all the stops for the event to go ahead, Olympic chief Thomas Bach even admitting that having no spectators was one of the scenarios being studied.
It is impossible, however, to not envisage a straight cancellation, a scenario never seen in peacetime.
“A cancellation of the Tokyo Games would be serious, both financially and from a sporting perspective for most international federations,” professor Chappelet told AFP.
“But I don’t believe that will happen because the IOC and most importantly the Japanese government will do everything so that they take place, even if they are ‘simplified’.
“They will then be able to say ‘We did it’, a little like after the two world wars: Antwerp in 1920 and London in 1948 symbolised a certain return to normality, even if they were both Games of austerity.”
Patrick Clastres, director of Lausanne University’s Global Sport and Olympic Studies Center, warned that “should the Games not take place, it would have an impact on the Olympic system”.
“It would put international federations in danger and reveal their finanacial fragility,” with many smaller federations dependent on IOC payouts every four years.
“Certain federations are financed by oligarchs, like the international fencing federation with Alisher Usmanov,” added Clastres.
“Others rely on Russian money. And for yet more others, the situation is really tough. In the medium term, the model will be to lift the Olympic shutdown.”
Former French sports minister Guy Drut, an IOC member since 1996 and Olympic 110m hurdles gold medallist in 1976, argued that “international federations have more to risk and lose from this kind of event than the IOC”.
“The financial consequences of the postponement will be shared. We will make sure that they are as small as possible.”
Drut has drawn criticism for saying plans for the next Summer Olympics after Tokyo, the 2024 Games in Paris, are “obsolete and outdated” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he has not stopped banging his drum.
“In the future, we need to reinvent the Olympic Games, to adapt. At the IOC, it is up to us to put this forward to lower the overall cost of the event.”
Drut’s idea for reducing costs is to be “rigorous and know what you can do without”.
“This will also be true for Paris 2024 where the most urgent thing is a budget update. At the Tokyo Olympics, 200 measures have been talked about to reduce costs. You have to do exactly the same for Paris 2024.”