As the threat of coronavirus spreads across the world, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are continuing to prepare for the summer games as planned, according to a spokesman for the Japanese government.
Spokesman Yoshihide Suga reassured the public that the games are currently still on despite comments made by former IOC vice president Dick Pound who said organizers will have to decide what they will do about the games in the next three months, Fox News reported.
“With regard to this member’s comment, the IOC has responded that this is not their official position, and that the IOC is proceeding with preparations toward the games as scheduled,” Suga said.
The summer Olympics are scheduled to begin on July 24 in Tokyo with 11,000 athletes in attendance. The Paralympics will begin a month later on Aug. 25 with 4,400 athletes.
In a Tuesday interview with The Associated Press, Pound said that the fate of the games was being threatened by the virus that has spread from China.
As of Wednesday morning, there have been over 81,000 coronavirus cases worldwide and 2,770 fatalities. According to Fox News, there have been five deaths from the COVID-19 illness in Japan and in China, there have been 2,715 deaths on the mainland.
Pound told the AP that the IOC has a three-month window to decide what will happen to the 2020 Olympics in response to the illness, suggesting other options including postponing or moving the event.
“This is the new war and you have to face it,” he said. “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?’”
If the Olympics cannot go on, “you’re probably looking at a cancellation,” Pound said.
The modern Olympics have only been canceled during wartime and faced boycotts in Montreal in 1976, Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984. The 1940 Olympics in Tokyo were also canceled because of Japan’s war with China and World War II.
The three-month window Pound gave includes sponsors and television broadcasters as well as athletes and fans who will all need to confirm their travel plans within that time.
Pound has been an IOC member since 1978 and served two terms as vice president. He was also the founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Despite the looming uncertainty predicted by Pound, he encouraged athletes to continue training as normal.
“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.”
For its part, Japan is working on curbing the spread of the virus within the country and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked organizers to cancel or postpone major sports and cultural events, according to Fox News.
“The next one to two weeks is extremely important for the prevention of the escalation of the infection,” he said. “We ask organizers to cancel, postpone or scale down the size of such events.”
Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto said that they will make a “worst case scenario” plan “so that we can safely hold the Tokyo Olympics.”
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