An article talks about how Japan recently declared a third state of emergency due to the pandemic, most people in Japan don't want the 2020 Olympics to take place, and how their health care system is overloaded.

The Japanese Prime Minister suggested that Japan does not have the power to cancel the Olympics - only the IOC has that power:

Suga said Japan has no choice but to follow the IOC decision to hold the games. “The IOC has the authority to decide and the IOC has already decided to hold the Tokyo Olympics,” Suga said.

Is that true?


3 Answers 3


The City of Tokyo, and the President of the Japanese Olympic Committee have signed the Host City Contract, section 33 (c) of which states:

The final dates for the holding of the Games, including the number of days of competition and the scheduling of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, shall be decided by the IOC in consultation with the OCOG (the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games)

Furthermore, section 66: Termination of Contract only entitles the IOC to terminate the contract and withdraw the Games from the Host City, not the Host City itself. Section 71: Unforseen or Undue Hardship allows the Japanese OCOG to request that the IOC consider reasonable changes, provided that they do not adversely affect the Games or the IOC, but it makes clear that the IOC is not obligated to either consider or agree to any such changes.

The IOC is also the final arbiter of any dispute between the OCOG and the Olympic Family according to section 74.

If we look to Addendum 4 to the Host City Contract, which postponed the Games to 2021, the preambulatory statements note that:

the Prime Minister of Japan Mr. Abe Shinzo has declared and guaranteed to the IOC the full support and commitment of the Japanese Government towards the successful staging of the Games in the year 2021

This addendum was only implemented with the agreement of the IOC, and it makes clear that any further alterations to the schedule are subject to the agreement of that same body.

The contract is governed by Swiss law, and Tokyo, the Japanese Olympic Committee, and the OCOG have all waived their ability to claim immunity against any legal action initiated by the IOC in section 87.

This all being said, the Japanese government is of course sovereign - this power being delegated to them by the Japanese people, and it's impossible for the IOC to force the Games to take place. The IOC would of course take a dim view of a Japanese attempt to unilaterally postpone the games, especially given the assurances from then Prime Minister Abe, and legal proceedings would probably be brought in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

  • 26
    Of course, even if Japan doesn't want to directly abrogate its agreement with the IOC, it could very easily decide to, say, pass a law severely limiting the manner in which the games are held. For example, no spectators, all athletes must maintain social distancing, everyone has to be fully vaccinated, etc. The IOC might argue that this violates their agreement, but I'm sure Japan could come up with some reasonably neutral wording that would, in principle, apply to any large event with many attendees.
    – Kevin
    May 5, 2021 at 7:47
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    @Kevin not really without violating the contract. IOC gets approval over, among other things, any changes to the venues and any changes to ticket prices and policies (which must be made with an "aim of allowing maximum spectator attendance to the sports competitions"), and there is a clause requiring that any "any law, rule, or regulation [...] enacted or amended or enter[ing] into force after the date of the visit by the IOC Evaluation Commission" cannot have an adverse effect on the Games.
    – hobbs
    May 5, 2021 at 16:13
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    @Hobbs, if the Japanese government isn’t party to the contract (the answer says it’s the City of Tokyo) I can’t see how it could be held liable for violating the terms of the contract.
    – Darren
    May 5, 2021 at 21:52
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    @hobbs: National governments have the power to unilaterally cancel contracts without penalty, so the IOC wouldn't be able to sue Japan even if they did cancel the Olympics.
    – Vikki
    May 5, 2021 at 22:44
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    The contract to hold the Olympics is always between IOC and the host city (in this case Tokyo). Japan is not a party to the contract and cannot cancel it. Japan can, of course, restrict the Games or complicate Tokyo's ability to host them but in that case IOC can sue Tokyo for breach of contract and leave dealing with Japan to the city.
    – Denis
    May 6, 2021 at 12:24

Yes and no.

The International Olympic Committee is a private organization. They have the freedom to do whatever they want within the bounds of local laws. When they want to do an event, and there is no law which explicitly says they can not do that event, then they can.

However, the government of Japan could easily forbid large-scale sport events in general. Many countries have made ordinances and laws with the purpose to contain the pandemic which have the side-effects that a sport event like the Olympic Games would be practically impossible.

Further, a mega-event like the Olympic Games usually requires a ton of permits from various public institutions. Usually those permits get greenlit, because most countries and municipalities want the Olympic games. But when they don't want those games, then the executive could just instruct all those institutions to deny those permits. The IOC could of course try to work around that. Either do things in ways which don't require special permits or take the legal road and sue for permits where the law says that they should be entitled to them. Still, if the administrative apparatus really does not want those games, they can cause enough trouble for the IOC to reconsider.

But when Suga said that "Japan has no choice but to follow the IOC decision to hold the games", then he might also refer to something else: Contractual obligations. Usually there is a fierce bidding war between countries to get chosen as the host country for the Olympic Games. That puts the IOC into a position to dictate conditions. It is very well possible that the government of Japan had to sign a contract in order to be chosen, and that contract says that the government guarantees cooperation with the IOC. Breaking those contracts could come with a very hefty fine for the Japanese taxpayers.

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    I would also note that it would likely impact Japan's ability to compete in future games as well.
    – Joe W
    May 4, 2021 at 17:27
  • It should be noted that the IOC demand primary legislation from host countries, not mere contracts. May 5, 2021 at 18:45
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    The government of Japan did NOT sign the contract.
    – CGCampbell
    May 6, 2021 at 15:56
  • The Japanese government for example could require hotel ioslation of 4 weeks for eveyone who enters the county,, and hence result in the games becoming unpractical May 7, 2021 at 20:24

We have established in another answer that there is a contract giving the IOC the authority to hold the games and which doesn't give Japan the authority to cancel them.

However, this is [politics.se], not the [law.se]. There is a whole range of things Japan could do to coerce the IOC into not holding the games.

  • For example the Prime Minister of Japan could make an official statement condemning the IOC for causing the death of Japanese people through their conduct
  • They could prevent their own athletes from training - while they possibly couldn't prevent them from participating without violating the contract, they certainly could make training so difficult that all Japanese athletes would withdraw from the games
  • They could have a strict lock-down everywhere around the Olympics and make exceptions in the law for just everything related to the Olympics, but then publicly shame anyone who makes use of those exceptions
  • Because the Japanese people seem to be against holding the Olympics, they could have private political organizations organize demonstrations and other direct actions (with strict distancing and mask policies) against the Olympics and then only do a perfunctory amount of policing to stop them.

And so on. And of course in the end the constitutional principle to safeguard their own citizens (whatever specific phrasing and form that takes in Japan and any other countries which might claim to have jurisdiction) will take precedence over any other law and contract, so they can still lawfully cancel the games.

Apparently the current Prime Minister of Japan has been criticized before for not taking strong enough measures against the pandemic and blaming the IOC seems to be a convenient way to do what he wants to do anyway, without taking the political fallout.

  • How does the fact that the contract is with the City of Tokyo and not Japan change things?
    – CGCampbell
    May 6, 2021 at 16:03
  • @CGCampbell I suspect there is more than the contract with Tokyo because the IOC knows that some of the things they require can't be unilaterally provided by a city. But I would need to search for the details.
    – Nobody
    May 6, 2021 at 21:24
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    The Japanese government for example could require hotel ioslation of 4 weeks for eveyone who enters the count, and hence result in the games becoming unpractical May 7, 2021 at 20:25
  • @Nobody You're welcome. I am sure there is, and regardless of what polity the contract is with, as it is inside Japan, the National government has to weigh the effects on the City for any breach of contract with protecting its citizens. I don't think your answer is 'wrong' as much as I believe a thorough answer must discuss the ramifications to and of the National government as well as the City of Tokyo, which is the actual polity under contract.
    – CGCampbell
    May 8, 2021 at 11:05

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