Tokyo 2020 ‘not in a position’ to know if Olympic Games will go ahead next year or not due to coronavirus

Tokyo’s Olympic Committee chief executive Toshiro Muto admits no one can be sure of if next summer’s Games can go ahead as planned as Japan’s coronavirus crisis continues to worsen

Jack de Menezes,Stephen Wade
Friday 10 April 2020 14:37
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Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games postponed due to coronavirus pandemic

The chief executive of Tokyo 2020 has warned that no one is certain whether the Olympic Games will go ahead next year, and has called on everyone to put “all of our effort” into developing “treatments, medicines and vaccines” for coronavirus.

A decision was taken last month to postpone the 36th Olympic Games that were due to get underway in July this year by 12 months, with the hope that the coronavirus pandemic will be under control and sporting events resumed around the world.

With more than 200 nations and 11,300 athletes competing, the coronavirus outbreak poses a great risk to Japan if it remains a global crisis next year, and should similar circumstances unfold to the past few months, the International Olympic Committee would face an extremely difficult decision on potentially cancelling the 2020 Games altogether.

Japan has spent more than £10m on bringing the Olympics to Tokyo, with substantial costs to be added onto that fee following the postponement. But speaking on Friday, Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshiro Muto admitted there can be no certainty for next summer that conditions will be stable enough for the Games to go ahead at all.

"I don't think anyone would be able to say if it is going to be possible to get it under control by next July or not," Muto said on a videoconference. "We're certainly are not in a position to give you a clear answer."

But Muto backed up the IOC’s approach that all efforts will go towards staging the Olympic and Paralympic Games, rather than putting together any contingency plan should the 2021 events not be able to go ahead. Last week the IOC said they will only look at alternative plans if conditions next year had not improved.

"We have made the decision to postpone the games by one year," Muto added. "So this means that all we can do is work hard to prepare for the Games. We sincerely hope that come next year mankind will manage to overcome the coronavirus crisis.

"Rather than think about alternative plans, we should put in all of our effort," he said. "Mankind should bring together all of its technology and wisdom to work hard so they can develop treatments, medicines and vaccines."

The Olympics has become a key factor with Japanese parliament, particularly from opposition leaders who have accused Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of playing down the severity of their Covid-19 outbreak in an attempt to ensure Tokyo 2020 went ahead as planned. Japan is now suffering from a second spike of coronavirus cases, with Abe declaring both Tokyo and Osaka in a state of emergency this week, and the number of confirmed cases has rocketed from 1,140 on the day of the Olympic postponement (24 March) to more than 5,500 today, according to national broadcaster NHK, with more than 1,500 located in the Tokyo prefecture - the most of any across the country - with deaths exceeding 100 people after a threefold increase in the last two and a half weeks.

Muto was asked several times about the added costs of postponing, which has been estimated by Japanese media at between $2bn-$6bn. He said it was too soon to know the price tag and who would pay.

He also acknowledged that Tokyo Olympic organisers had taken out insurance: "Tokyo 2020 has taken out several insurance policies. But whether the postponement of the games qualifies as an event that is covered is not clear yet."

He was also asked about the Olympic flame, which was taken off public display this week in Fukushima prefecture. Muto had an away-from-the-microphone talk with Tokyo spokesman Masa Takaya before talking about the flame.

"After the Olympic torch relay was canceled, the Olympic flame was put under the management of Tokyo 2020," Muto said. "Obviously in the future there is a possibility it might be put on display somewhere. However, for now it is under the management of Tokyo 2020 and I'm not going to make any further comment on the issue."

There are suggestions the International Olympic Committee is thinking of taking the flame on a world tour, hoping to use it as a symbol of the battle against the virus. However, any tour would be impossible until travel restrictions are lifted. Taking the flame away from Japan could also upset the hosts.

Additional reporting by AP

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