The Japanese government has decided the Tokyo Olympics cannot go ahead this summer after they were postponed from last year, according to a report.
Senior cabinet members have 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, it is claimed.
'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.'
Japanese officials today denied the report, but their pledges to go ahead appeared unlikely to ease public doubts while Tokyo endures some of its highest infection rates of the entire pandemic.
The Japanese government has reportedly decided the Tokyo Olympics cannot go ahead this summer
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government have been maintaining that the event would go ahead, from July 23 to August 8, after last year's event was postponed due to Covid-19.
But 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.
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.
With another postponement already ruled out, the report claims that the global resurgence during the Northern Hemisphere winter has tipped the odds in favour of cancelling the Games altogether.
It also cites opinion polls showing that 80 per cent of the Japanese population are against the Olympics taking place in the summer, with many seeing the event as having the potential to spread the virus even further.
But a government spokesman claimed there was 'no truth' to the story, with deputy chief cabinet secretary Manabu Sakai saying that 'we will clearly deny the report'.
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.
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 that can deliver hope and courage throughout the world.'
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 told Reuters.
'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 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 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.'
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.
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.
The report claims that 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.
The news comes after the prospect of the Tokyo Games taking place behind closed doors increased after a senior Olympic chief said spectators were 'not a must-have'.
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'.