Tokyo Olympics would likely be canceled instead of moved if coronavirus outbreak worsens
TOKYO (AP) — A senior member of the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday that if it proves too dangerous to hold the Olympics in Tokyo this summer because of the coronavirus outbreak, organizers are more likely to cancel it altogether than to postpone or move it.
Dick Pound, a former Canadian swimming champion who has been on the IOC since 1978, making him its longest-serving member, estimated there is a three-month window — perhaps a two-month one — to decide the fate of the Tokyo Olympics, meaning a decision could be put off until late May.
“In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?’” he said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
As the games draw near, he said, “a lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels. The media folks will be in there building their studios.”
If the IOC decides the games cannot go forward as scheduled in Tokyo, “you’re probably looking at a cancellation,” he said.
The viral outbreak that began in China two months ago has infected more than 80,000 people globally and killed over 2,700, the vast majority of them in China. But the virus has gained a foothold in South Korea, the Middle East and Europe, raising fears of a pandemic. Japan itself has reported four deaths.
Pound encouraged athletes to keep training. About 11,000 are expected for the Olympics, which open July 24, and 4,400 are bound for the Paralympics, which open Aug. 25.
“As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo,” Pound said. “All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.”
The modern Olympics, which date to 1896, have been canceled only during wartime. The Olympics in 1940 were supposed to be in Tokyo but were called off because of Japan’s war with China and World War II. The Rio Games in Brazil went on as scheduled in 2016 despite the outbreak of the Zika virus.
Pound repeated the IOC’s stance — that it is relying on consultations with the World Health Organization, a United Nations body, to make any move.
As for the possibility of postponement, he said: “You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, `We’ll do it in October.’”