TOKYO (Reuters) – A delay of one or two years would be the “most feasible” option if the Tokyo Olympics cannot be held this summer due to the global outbreak of the coronavirus, a member of the organising committee’s executive board has told Reuters.
FILE PHOTO: A woman poses for a photo through The Olympic rings in front of the Japan Olympics Museum in Tokyo, Japan March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Haruyuki Takahashi, one of more than two dozen members of the Tokyo 2020 executive board, said the body had just started looking at scenarios for how the virus could affect the Games.
Takahashi had earlier told the Wall Street Journal that the board had not discussed the impact of the virus, having last met in December before the epidemic spread.
Organisers have been pushing a consistent message that the Games would not be cancelled or postponed but sponsors who have pumped in billions of dollars have grown increasingly nervous about how the coronavirus outbreak will impact the event.
Takahashi told Reuters that the financial damage from cancelling the Games or holding them without spectators would be too great, while a delay of less than a year would clash with other major professional sports schedules.
“We need to start preparing for any possibility. If the Games can’t be held in the summer, a delay of one or two years would be most feasible,” Takahashi said.
Tokyo 2020 organisers said in a statement they were aware of the articles but neither they nor the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was considering postponing or cancelling the Games.
“We sought clarification from Mr. Takahashi; he stated he had inadvertently given his personal opinion in response to a hypothetical question,” the statement said.
“As IOC President (Thomas Bach) stated the other day, neither the IOC nor the organising committee are considering postponing or cancelling the Tokyo 2020 Games, and we are proceeding with our preparations for a safe and secure Games opening on July 24, 2020, as planned.”
Experts say a one-year postponement to the same time next year would pose major logistical problems but was doable for broadcasters because it fits into their generally open summer schedule.
The new coronavirus has infected more than 116,000 people and killed more than 4,000 around the world since it surfaced in China late last year.
Japan has reported nearly 1,300 cases, including about 700 from a cruise ship that was quarantined near Tokyo last month. On Tuesday, it saw the biggest number of infections in a single day, of 59 cases, according to public broadcaster NHK.
With every new spike in the figures, speculation has swirled that the Tokyo 2020 Games, due to open on July 24, could be cancelled, delayed, or held without spectators, like many pre-Olympic qualifiers and other unrelated sports events have been in the run-up.
The fate of the Olympics has been a topic of discussion on social media for the past few days and was briefly a top trending topic on Japanese Twitter on Wednesday, with many commentators saying a postponement was likely inevitable given the spread of the coronavirus.
But others said the comments lacked consideration for the athletes.
“Doesn’t anybody understand the conditions and thinking of top athletes who have been training to be at their best this summer? And you say ‘delay by one or two years?’ wrote one user called “Ksktsupoine1.”
“I know there’s money involved, but given that this is the athletes’ festival, pronouncements should be made in a way to keep their dignity intact.”
Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Chang-Ran Kim, Shiho Tanaka and Elaine Lies; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman/Peter Rutherford