The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government put on a united front as they categorically denied a report that the Tokyo Olympics is to be cancelled this summer.
It was claimed on Thursday that senior cabinet members privately agreed the Games are doomed because of the coronavirus pandemic and are now looking to recoup the competition at the next available slot in 2032.
'No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it's too difficult,' a government source told The Times. 'Personally, I don't think it's going to happen.'
But Japan's Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai told a press conference on Friday that there was 'absolutely no truth' in the report and said work is underway to establish countermeasures to Covid-19 in time to safely host the Games.
The Japanese government categorically denied the Tokyo Games are set to be cancelled
The IOC also supported the government's defiance on Friday by denying the newspaper report
The IOC and Japanese government have consistently maintained that the event would go ahead, from July 23 to August 8, after last year's event was postponed due to Covid-19.
'Since last March's postponement, everyone involved in the delivery of the Games has been working tirelessly to develop COVID-19 countermeasures and plans which we believe will mitigate the risk for the athletes, all Games stakeholders and, importantly, the Japanese public,' part of the IOC statement read.
'In early February, the IOC, IPC and Tokyo 2020 will publish the first editions of Playbooks targeting Games stakeholders. These Playbooks will start to explain exactly how we aim to deliver this summer's event and outline the personal responsibilities each person attending the Games must follow to ensure safe and secure Games.
'Compared to March 2020, we now know much more about how the COVID-19 virus behaves, much more about how to organise safe sport events during a pandemic and are encouraged by the international roll-out of several vaccines.'
The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee added: 'Prime Minister Suga has expressed his determination to hold the Games; the government is leading a series of Coordination Meetings for COVID-19 Countermeasures and is implementing thorough infection countermeasures in order to be able to hold the Games.'
World Athletics president Seb Coe feels the Games could still happen behind closed doors
A recent surge in cases has forced Japan to close its borders to non-resident foreigners and declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and other cities, prompting concerns that the summer showcase of sport would once again be untenable.
Tokyo reported more than 1,000 new cases for nine straight days until Thursday, and earlier in January set a new single-day record of more than 2,400 infections.
Denying the report in the Times in the strongest possible terms, both the IOC and Japanese government confirmed their determination to deliver the Games.
But while the government sees the Games as a chance to deliver 'hope and courage' during the pandemic, many people fear that the influx of athletes will cause a super-spreader event in Japan.
One opinion poll showed that 80 per cent of the Japanese population are against the Olympics taking place in the summer. On Friday, the Tokyo Medical Association called for the event to be held behind closed doors, a move that received support from president of World Athletics, Seb Coe.
'If the only way we are able to deliver the Games is behind closed doors I think everyone is accepting of that,' he told the BBC.
The IOC's most senior member Dick Pound recently said: 'It's nice to have spectators but it's not a must-have.'
The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, said there had been no talk of cancelling or delaying the Olympics and a protest should be lodged over the Times report. The government reaffirmed their commitment on Friday as they admonished the reporting.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan's prime minister, had said earlier in the week that 'we will have full anti-infection measures in place and proceed with preparation and with a determination to achieve the Games'.
The Games organising committee also denied the report, saying in a statement that its partners including the government and the IOC were 'fully focused' on hosting the event as scheduled.
'It is very disappointing to see that the Times is developing such a tabloid-like story with an untrustworthy source,' a source from the organising committee said.
The IOC and the Japanese government have been saying that the event would go ahead (pictured left: IOC chief Thomas Bach; right: Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga)
'The national government is fully committed to delivering a safe and secure Games, and we are always encouraged by their dedications,' the source said.
The Australian and U.S. Olympic Committees said they were preparing for the Games as planned.
'Unfortunately, I need to address unfounded rumours that the Tokyo Olympic Games will be cancelled, rumours that only create more anxiety for athletes,' Matt Carroll, the chief executive of the Australian committee, told reporters in Sydney.
'The Tokyo Games are on. The flame will be lit on July 23, 2021.'
IOC President Thomas Bach reaffirmed his commitment to holding the Games this year in an interview with Kyodo News on Thursday.
'We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo,' Bach said.
The cancellation of the Olympics would have a devastating financial impact on Japan, with the country having reportedly spent more than £18billion ($25bn) on preparing for the Games.
The IOC's most senior member, Dick Pound, says spectators are not a 'must-have' this year
It would also be the first time they have been cancelled in peacetime, with the Olympics being called off in 1916, 1940 and 1944 because of World War I and World War II.
Japan had initially held out against a postponement last year, before finally agreeing a one-year delay in March.
Now, the disputed report claimed a cancelled Olympics would lead Japan to look at hosting the 2032 Games instead, with a decision expected by 2025 on who will host that year's showpiece.
Paris is due to host the 2024 Games while Los Angeles is the designated venue for 2028.
Sportsmail understands organisers are considering making the Olympics a TV-only event, with a decision set to be made in March.
The claims also come after Sir Keith Mills, deputy chair of the London 2012 organising committee, said Tokyo 2020 organisers should be 'making plans for a cancellation'.
IPC AND IOC STATEMENT IN FULL
The IPC, IOC, Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and all delivery partners are fully committed and focussed on delivering safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer. This position has not changed and has been confirmed once again today by the IOC, Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese government.
Since last March's postponement, everyone involved in the delivery of the Games has been working tirelessly to develop COVID-19 countermeasures and plans which we believe will mitigate the risk for the athletes, all Games stakeholders and, importantly, the Japanese public.
In early February, the IOC, IPC and Tokyo 2020 will publish the first editions of Playbooks targeting Games stakeholders. These Playbooks will start to explain exactly how we aim to deliver this summer's event and outline the personal responsibilities each person attending the Games must follow to ensure safe and secure Games.
Compared to March 2020, we now know much more about how the COVID-19 virus behaves, much more about how to organise safe sport events during a pandemic and are encouraged by the international roll-out of several vaccines.
By the time of the Games this summer, we are optimistic that daily case numbers will be much lower than during these dark winter months. We are also confident that the extensive testing programme to be implemented before, during and after the Games – one of several measures that will be taken targeting Games stakeholders - will help minimise the risk of virus transmission. Finally, each sport event that has taken place globally since the outbreak of the virus has provided us all with valuable learning experiences which are helping to continually shape our plans for Tokyo.
There is no doubt the Tokyo 2020 Games will be very different to any previous Games and that this summer's event looks a long way off right now. However, we believe that with the robust measures and plans we have in place, the Games can and will go ahead safely.'
The Japanese Cabinet Secretariat of the Headquarters for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, said: 'Some news reports circulating today are claiming that the Government of Japan has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus. This is categorically untrue.
'At an IOC Executive Board Meeting in July last year, it was agreed that the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would be held on July 23 this year, and the programme and venues for the Games were rescheduled accordingly. All parties involved are working together to prepare for a successful Games this summer.
'We will be implementing all possible countermeasures against COVID-19 and will continue to work closely with the IOC, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in our preparations for holding a safe and secure Games this summer.'
The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee commented: 'Prime Minister Suga has expressed his determination to hold the Games; the government is leading a series of Coordination Meetings for COVID-19 Countermeasures and is implementing thorough infection countermeasures in order to be able to hold the Games.
All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the IOC and the IPC are fully focused on hosting the Games this summer. We hope that daily life can return to normal as soon as possible, and we will continue to make every effort to prepare for a safe and secure Games.