The former chief executive of the London Games believes Tokyo Olympics organisers should plan for a cancellation.
The delayed event is just over six months away, with Japan recording its worst numbers of Covid-19 in recent weeks and the world still in the grip of the virus.
London 2012 CEO Sir Keith Mills doesn't think they will cancel just yet, but has told the BBC the clock is ticking.
"Looking at the pandemic around the world, in South America, in North America, in Africa and across Europe, it looks unlikely," Mills told BBC Radio 5 live.
"If I was sitting in the shoes of the organising committee in Tokyo, I would be making plans for a cancellation and I'm sure they have plans for a cancellation. I think they will leave it until absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically, in case the vaccinations roll out faster than we all hope."
Only five Olympics have ever been canceled, all during wartime: the 1916, 1940 and 1944 Summer Olympics, and Winter Games in 1940 and 1944. But that was before big money was involved.
Japan must also save face. It has spent at least US$25 billion preparing for the Olympics. In addition, China will host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Japan would hate to cede the stage to China.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is framing the Olympics as "a proof of human victory against the coronavirus."
The president of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee last week reassured the Japanese public that the postponed games will open.
Two polls in recent weeks have showed more than 80 per cent of Japanese people surveyed think the Olympics should be cancelled or postponed, or believe they will not take place as COVID-19 cases surge in Japan.
According to the Japan Times, one telephone survey found 35.5 percent of people polled called for the cancellation of the event in Tokyo, whole 44.8 percent said the Olympics should be put on hold once again.
In what was billed as a New Year's address last week, President Yoshiro Mori gave a pep talk aimed at the July 23 opening of the Olympics.
"Spring will always come, morning will surely come even after long nights," Mori said. "Believing in that, to give joy and hope to many people, we will do our best until the end."
Organisers and the International Olympic Committee have repeated for months that the delayed Olympics will be able to open during the pandemic. But they have given few specifics and have said detailed plans will be revealed in the spring.
It's an enormous job. More than 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from 200 nations and territories will have to enter Japan, along with tens of thousands of other officials, coaches, and judges. No decision has been made public about fans being able to attend venues. It's also unclear if fans from abroad will be permitted.
Optimism from organisers has been put into question by a state of emergency for Tokyo and surrounding areas declared earlier this month by Prime Minister Suga. Japan has controlled the virus relatively well, but cases are rising with about 4,000 deaths in Japan attributed to COVID-19.
Japan has a population of 126 million.
"If I get caught up in my thoughts, or if I flinch, or get a little lost in my mind — it affects everything," Mori said. "We have to proceed as planned. There is no other way to respond."
Tokyo Olympics Q&A
Will these Olympics look different?
A: Almost certainly. First, athletes will be told to arrive later than usual, and leave early. The idea is to keep the Athletes Village sparsely populated. It's hard to imagine much interaction between athletes, the public and the media. Fewer athletes than usual are likely to appear in the opening ceremony. Japanese media are reporting only 6,000 Olympic athletes will take part. The Olympics involve 11,000 athletes.
However, from the perspective of the television viewer, everything may look similar to previous Olympics. The venues are basically TV stages, and they look the same from one Olympics to the next. Fans are now accustomed to viewing sports events in empty stadiums.
One caveat. Ticket sales account for $800 million in income for local organizers. No fans means lost revenue and more costs. Those costs must be absorbed by Japanese government entities. Several Japanese government audits have estimated Olympic spending at $25 billion or more. All but $6.7 billion is public money. Local sponsors have also poured in $3.5 billion. Will they get much "bang for their buck?"
Q: Why all the skeptical comments recently from several insiders — mainly senior IOC member Dick Pound and Japanese minister Taro Kono.
A: Pound and Kono both answered the questions they were asked.
Pound was asked about the Olympics taking place. "I can't be certain because the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus." He also suggested athletes should be a high priority for a vaccine because they serve as "role models." That contradicted IOC President Thomas Bach, who has said athletes should not be a priority.
Kono, a member of Suga's cabinet, acknowledged in an interview that the Olympics are in doubt.
"I should say anything is possible," Kono said.
Kono is the former defense minister and is now the minister for administrative and regulatory reform. On Monday, he was put in charge of Japan's vaccine program.
"It could go either way," he added of the Olympics.
Keith Mills, who was deputy chair of the organizing committee for the 2012 London Olympics, said he is sure plans have been drawn up for a cancellation.
"But I think they'll leave it until absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically, in case the vaccinations roll out faster than we all hope," Mills told the BBC on Tuesday. "It's a tough call, I wouldn't like to be in their shoes."
Q: Will vaccinations be required?
A: Not clear. Bach has urged all "participants" to be vaccinated. But he's said athletes will not be required to. But that was the IOC speaking. The Japanese government could override this with different rules for entry and requirements for quarantines.
Q: I see the Australian Open is having problems. What can the IOC learn there?
A: About 1,200 players, staff and media have arrived for next month's Australian Open. All participants were required to return negative COVID-19 tests before boarding flights for Australia. As of Tuesday, nine on those on the flights tested positive when landing in Australia. That has forced 72 players into a 14-day lockdown — since they were exposed on flights — as well as all other passengers on those flights.
The Olympics and Paralympics will involve 15,400 athletes. And tens of thousands of staff, officials, judges, media and broadcasters. And dozen of venues. Athletes are sure to be affected, jeopardizing years of training and, for most, their only shot at a medal.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said his experiences can teach Japan and the IOC how to deal with problems and setbacks.
"I think there's a lot to be learned from this experience for the Olympic Games," Tiley said. "Every single day we become better at it because we've learned from what happened yesterday — the mistakes you make."
- With AP