The International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave further backing to this summer’s Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday.
Despite fears COVID-19 (coronavirus) could delay or even cancel the event, IOC head Thomas Bach told Reuters his organisation is preparing for a successful Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“I would like to encourage all the athletes to continue their preparation for the Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020 with great confidence and full steam,” Bach said at an executive board meeting.
“From our side, we will continue to support the athletes and the national Olympic committees.”
The Tokyo Olympics is planned to occur from 24 July to 9 August, and is predicted to attract millions of tourists to Japan, with the event hosted across Hokkaido, Fukushima and Shizuoka prefectures.
In addition, the Paralympic Games are set to begin 25 August.
But Tadamasa Fukiura, a former member of the Tokyo Organising Committee for the 1964 Olympics and advisor to the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, believes attendance could be hit by fears of infection.
“The Olympics probably won’t be cancelled unless the number of domestic cases in Japan reaches the tens of thousands,” Fukiura told the Japan Times.
“The more realistic question is whether spectators and athletes will still want to come even as the situation continues to worsen.”
To date, nearly 1,000 cases of COVID-19 have been contracted across Japan, along with 12 deaths.
The heightened risk of contracting the virus has led the Australian government to raise its advice level for Japan, advising travellers to now exercise a high degree of caution there, based on advice from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer.
Coronavirus the most serious threat Olympic Games has ever faced: Former IOC VP
Former IOC vice president Kevan Gosper believes the risk of coronavirus is the most serious the Olympic Games has ever faced, and Tokyo 2020 will be cancelled if the situation doesn’t improve.
“If … vaccines aren’t available, and it continues to escalate then the only possibility is that the Games will be cancelled,” he told The Ticket.
Historically, no Olympic Games has ever been cancelled for any other reason than war, as with the 1916, 1940 and 1944 iterations of the international spectacle.
“I would say next to the coronavirus was the Zika virus before we went to Rio … We’ve had big ones like the Moscow boycott, we had the terrible one in Munich where the 11 Israeli athletes were killed, and I could go through chapter and verse a number of them.
“This is serious because of the spread, it’s serious because of the speed with which it’s escalating.
“But for the first time we’ve got to think seriously that we’ve only got a two-to-three-month window [to decide] if we can continue with the Games,” Gosper said.
Thus far, the IOC has been unwilling to disclose the possibility of delaying or cancelling the event, advising in a press statement that it would continue to follow the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO), as the leading United Nations agency on this topic.
On the other hand, Japan’s Olympic minister said on Tuesday Tokyo’s contract with the IOC does allow it the possibility to postpone the games until the end of the year.
“The contract calls for the games to be held within 2020. That could be interpreted as allowing a postponement,” Seiko Hashimoto said in response to a legislator’s question in Parliament, as reported by Al Jazeera.
Under the hosting agreement, the right to cancel the Olympics belongs to the IOC. But such a move could be economically disastrous for Japan and Tokyo 2020’s investors, advertisors and broadcasters.
Organisers in December declared the games were expected to cost some 1.37 trillion yen ($19.47 billion), while billions more have been spent on related projects.
Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the IOC, said Tuesday that organisers would have a three-month window to decide whether to cancel or proceed with the Tokyo Olympics.