Superforecaster Perspectives > Forecasting the Tokyo Olympics

Forecasting the Tokyo Olympics

In late July 2020, a year ahead of the Tokyo Olympics (postponed in 2020 and scheduled to open 23 July 2021), we asked the Superforecasters whether the Games will begin as planned. By 7 September 2020, the Superforecasters had a clear answer. Back then, they gave the Games a 63% probability of proceeding and have hardly looked back.

The picture was by no means clear if you followed media reports around the Olympics throughout the past year. The IOC and the organizing committee were adamant that options such as a cancellation or delay were off the table. The Japanese public became increasingly opposed to the event. COVID-19 hit the country with a new wave. A range of dissonant headlines, speculations, public opinion polls, and even allegations that Japan had privately decided to cancel the Games (Times) all contributed to the noise surrounding the future of the event.

Good Judgment’s professional Superforecasters are skilled at separating the signal from the noise. They took into account such factors as the associated costs; the likelihood that a vaccine would be developed, tested, and become available by the time of the event (this was months before any COVID-19 vaccine was found to be effective—and safe—in a large clinical trial); and the increasing international experience with measures to contain risk. See how their forecast evolved over time against the backdrop of media reports throughout the year.

A list of media headlines and key events is provided at the bottom of this article, demonstrating both the signal and the noise surrounding the Tokyo Olympics.

Full access to the Superforecasts and commentary is available through subscription via our FutureFirst™ monitor.

Tokyo Olympics: A Sample of Media Headlines Since July 2020

21 July 2020: USA Today: “As COVID-19 pandemic rages on, experts say it’s unlikely Tokyo Olympics can be held next summer”

20 Aug 2020: Japan Times: “Majority of Japanese firms against holding Tokyo Olympics in 2021”

7 Sept 2020: BBC: “Games will go ahead ‘with or without Covid’, says IOC VP”

1 Oct 2020: The Diplomat: “The International Olympic Committee has ruled out postponing the Tokyo Games for a second time”

1 Dec 2020: “Report: Delay of 2020 Tokyo Olympics cost $3 billion”

15 Dec 2020: Japan Times: “Most in Japan oppose holding Olympics in 2021, polls show”

27 Dec 2020: Kyodo: “Pandemic causing uncertainty, unease for Tokyo Olympic ‘host towns’”

7 Jan 2021: BBC: “Tokyo 2020: No guarantee Olympics will go ahead, says IOC’s Pound”

10 Jan 2021: Kyodo: “About 80% favor canceling, postponing Tokyo Olympics in summer: poll”

11 Jan 2021: Japan declares a state of emergency

13 Jan 2021: Guardian: “Tokyo’s Covid outbreak adds to doubts over hosting Olympic Games”

15 Jan 2021: NYT: “Hopes for Tokyo’s Summer Olympics Darken”

CBS: “Tokyo Olympics 2021: Spike in COVID-19 cases has Japanese officials bracing for possible postponement”

19 Jan 2021: AP: “Tokyo Olympics Q&A: 6 months out and murmurs of cancellation”

BBC: “Tokyo Olympics ‘unlikely to go ahead in 2021’”

21 Jan 2021: Times: “The Japanese government has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus”

22 Jan 2021: Reuters: “Japan and IOC deny that Olympics will be cancelled”

11 Feb 2021: Guardian: “Tokyo 2020 Olympics president expected to resign over sexist comments”

15 Feb 2021: CNN: “An earthquake at the Olympic torch relay start point is just the beleaguered Tokyo 2020 Games’ latest crisis”

17 Feb 2021: Seiko Hashimoto becomes new president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee

9 March 2021: Kyodo: “Japan to stage Tokyo Olympics without overseas spectators”

25 March 2021: Tokyo Olympic torch relay begins

15 April 2021: Washington Post: “Olympics could be canceled because of virus, Japan ruling party figure admits”

1 May 2021: Washington Post: “Olympic officials are determined to have a Tokyo Games despite Japan’s growing doubts”

12 May 2021: BBC: “Tokyo 2020: United States track and field team cancels pre-Olympic training in Japan”

14 May 2021: NPR: “Opposition to Tokyo Games Grows Heated amid COVID Concerns”

Guardian: “Hospitals overwhelmed as Covid cases surge in Osaka”

18 May 2021: CNBC: “Tokyo medical association calls for cancellation of Tokyo Olympics due to spike in Covid cases”

19 May 2021: CNN: “Dozens of Japanese towns have canceled plans to host foreign athletes from around the world due to concern over Covid-19”

25 May 2021: CNN: “Canceling Tokyo Olympics is ‘essentially off the table,’ says IOC member Dick Pound”

2 June 2021: AP: “Yes. Tokyo Olympics are ‘a go’ despite opposition, pandemic”

13 June 2021: CBS: “Cancel the Tokyo Olympics? It’s unlikely. Here’s why”


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