Torchbearer Mizuki Noguchi (L), Japanese marathon athlete gold medalist of the Athens Olympic Games, receives a flame from Anna Korakaki, Greek shooting gold medalist of the Rio Olympic Games in an ancient Olympia site during the dress rehearsal in southern Greece on Wednesday. The ceremony was held without spectators because of coronavirus concerns. The Olympic Flame is to be relayed for eight days in Greece and it will be flown to Japan to launch a planned 121-day trek leading to a July 24 Opening Ceremony. Photo: AFP / The Yomiuri Shimbun

Cancelling the 2020 Olympics is “unthinkable” although the classification of the coronavirus as a pandemic will likely have some impact on the Games, the Tokyo city governor said on Thursday.

“It can’t be said that the announcement of a pandemic would have no impact…. But I think cancelation is unthinkable,” Yuriko Koike told reporters.

She’s not the only one. Japanese officials and Olympic organizers are all at pains to insist this summer’s Games in Tokyo are on, despite the new coronavirus outbreak, but what would a cancellation cost the world’s third-biggest economic powerhouse?

With a dearth of reliable figures, opinions vary, yet experts all agree on one point: Games or no, the main risk to the Japanese economy this year is a prolonged global coronavirus epidemic.

At the end of 2019, organizers estimated the total cost of the Games at around 1.35 trillion yen ($12.6 billion).

That is divided among the city of Tokyo, which is paying 597 billion yen, the Japanese organizing committee, which contributes 603 billion yen and the central government, which is paying 150 billion yen.

But the actual costs for the country have been hotly debated, with a widely publicized audit report estimating national government spending from the bid in 2013 until 2018 at 1.06 trillion yen, nearly 10 times the budget.

Japanese businesses have also poured money into the event in sponsorships, paying out a record 348 billion yen ($3.3 billion).

And that figure doesn’t include the partnerships signed between major companies and the International Olympic Committee for rights to sponsor several Games. Among those are giants including Japan’s Toyota, Bridgestone and Panasonic.

Sectors affected

According to analysts at Capital Economics, one key factor to consider in terms of how a cancellation might hit Japan’s economy is that most of the spending has already happened.

That means the effect of outlays, most notably on construction of new sporting venues, has already been factored into GDP in recent years.

But a cancelation would be a drag on tourism, as well as on general consumption in the country, already under pressure after a controversial sales tax hike last year.

Tourism in Japan was hit before the virus, amid a diplomatic spat with South Korea that prompted boycott calls. Visitors from South Korea previously made up the second largest contingent of tourists to Japan, behind only China.

And with the virus outbreak, Japan has seen a further fall in South Korean numbers, as well as a plunge in travellers from China, which together accounted for nearly half the 31.9 million foreign visitors to the country in 2019.

Japan has an industrialized and diversified economy not heavily reliant on tourism, with foreign visitor expenditures making up just 0.9 percent of GDP in 2018, according to economic research organization CEIC.

But with domestic spending already weak, the hit from a cancellation could ripple through and further depress local purchasing.

Impact on GDP

Economists at research firm Nomura already predict a 0.7-percent contraction in GDP for the 2020 calendar year, but warn that could be up to 1.5 percent if the Games are cancelled.

Takashi Miwa, an economist at the firm, told AFP the main impact would be on domestic spending, because a cancellation of the Games “would badly affect Japanese consumer confidence.”

It could also deprive the country of 240 billion yen ($2.28 billion) in spending from foreign spectators expected to attend the Games, he added.

The Tokyo 2020 organizers decline to say how many foreign visitors they expect to visit Japan specifically for the Games.

So far 4.5 million tickets have been sold in Japan, with around 7.8 million expected to be sold overall, 20 to 30 percent of them internationally.

Japan’s tourism ministry in 2018 projected around 600,000 foreign spectators would come for the Olympics.

Using a more modest projection of 300,000 foreign visitors for the Games, economists at SMBC Nikko Security forecast a cancellation and continued spread of the virus would shrink Japan’s GDP growth by 1.4 percent.

That forecast assumes the virus is still spreading globally in July, forcing the cancelation. The group estimates a 0.9-percent drop to GDP growth if the outbreak ends in April.

Virus’s toll worldwide

Coronavirus has already taken a huge toll on sport across the globe.

US basketball was the latest sport to be hit, as the NBA said it would suspend play starting on Thursday after a Utah Jazz player preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19.

In Italy, the hardest-hit European country, all sporting events including Serie A have been suspended until April 3.

Arsenal’s game at Manchester City on Wednesday became the first Premier League fixture to be called off due to the outbreak, with the Gunners’ players put in quarantine after coming into contact with the owner of Greek club Olympiakos.

The virus has also hit the UEFA Champions League, with Italian side Atalanta qualifying for the quarter-finals at Valencia on Tuesday in an empty stadium, while Paris Saint-Germain’s win over Borussia Dortmund was also played without spectators.

In tennis, the prestigious ATP and WTA Indian Wells tournament was cancelled as California health officials declared a public health emergency in the area after a confirmed case of the coronavirus.

– AFP

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now.