2020 Olympics Officials 'Extremely Worried' Coronavirus Outbreak May Hamper Games

Organizers of the 2020 Olympic Games are "extremely worried" the ongoing coronavirus outbreak could "pour cold water" on the upcoming games, which take place in Tokyo this July.

Several qualifying events have already been disrupted but Japan's prime minister has said there are no plans to reschedule the global sporting event. There has been no discussion of potentially canceling the games because of the coronavirus, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games confirmed to Newsweek.

The deadly virus, which was first identified in Wuhan city in the Hubei province of China, has taken the lives of 492 people. There are nearly 25,000 confirmed cases in China, and 191 across 24 countries beyond China, according to the latest report from the World Health Organization. The body has officially declared the virus a global public health emergency.

Japan has reported at least 45 infected people, including the 20 confirmed cases aboard a Princess Cruises cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama Port. More than 3,700 people remain aboard as officials conduct health checks to identify those infected.

Organizers of the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Games have expressed concerns over the epidemic, with a string of Olympics qualifying events having been rescheduled.

The Lingshui China Masters tournament, an Olympic qualifying event for badminton, has been postponed by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) and Chinese Badminton Association (CBA), Reuters reports.

"BWF and CBA have considered all necessary health, safety and logistical risks and both parties believe it is sensible to postpone the tournament at this time," the BWF said in a statement.

The BWF confirmed the tournament would likely be rescheduled for a date in May, but noted the ranking points earned at the newly scheduled event would no longer count towards Olympic qualification.

An Olympic qualifying event for women's soccer scheduled to take place in Wuhan has been moved to Sydney. China's women's soccer team were quarantined at a hotel in Brisbane on Wednesday after arriving in Australia for the tournament, Japan's Jiji Press reports.

An Olympic qualifying event for women's basketball was moved from Foshan in southern China to Belgrade, Serbia and will be taking place from February 6-9.

A boxing Olympic qualifying event has also been relocated from Wuhan to Amman, Jordan and postponed to take place in March 3-11 instead of its original February schedule.

Several other major sporting events in China have been canceled or rescheduled following the coronavirus outbreak, including The World Indoor Championships, which was scheduled to take place in Nanjing from March 13-15 but has now been postponed for a year. "It is with regret that we have agreed with the organisers ... to postpone the event to March 2021," the sport's governing body said in a statement Wednesday.

The Men's World Cup races, the first test events for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics which were due to take place in the Chinese resort of Yanqing, were relocated to Saalbach-Hinterglemm in Austria and rescheduled for February 13 and 14.

A Diving World Series event, scheduled for March 7-9 in Beijing, has also been cancelled, the executive director of FINA, the international swimming federation, Cornel Marculescu, told Agence France-Presse.

"We are extremely worried in the sense that the spread of the infectious virus could pour cold water on momentum for the games," Toshiro Muto, chief executive officer of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, said before a meeting with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), The Japan Times reports.

"I hope that it can be eradicated as quickly as possible. We plan to cooperate with the IOC (International Olympic Committee), the IPC, the government and the city of Tokyo to tackle the disease," he added.

Saburo Kawabuchi, the mayor of the Athletes Village, where around 11,000 Olympic athletes are expected to be housed, also expressed concern, adding: "I truly hope that the infectious disease will die down somehow so that we will be able to operate the Paralympics and Olympics smoothly."

"In the worst case—we will do our utmost for the athletes so that they will be able to concentrate on performing their best," he said.

Tokyo governor Yurkio Koike warned: "We must firmly tackle the new coronavirus to contain it, or we are going to regret it."

But the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games confirms there have been no talks of potentially canceling the games because of the virus and that measures have been introduced to "host a safe and secure Games."

Speaking to Newsweek, the Olympics committee said in a statement, "We have never discussed cancelling the Games. Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with the IOC and relevant organizations and will review any countermeasures that may be necessary."

"Countermeasures against infectious diseases constitute an important part of our plans to host a safe and secure Games. To address the novel coronavirus issue, the Government of Japan has established the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters, led by the Prime Minister, and intends to pay full attention to the virus's impacts and thoroughly respond to them.

"The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has also established an internal task force. Meanwhile, as of February 4th Tokyo 2020 has established a Novel Coronavirus Countermeasures Task Force under the leadership of CEO Toshiro Muto. Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with all relevant organizations which carefully monitor any incidence of infectious diseases and we will review any countermeasures that may be necessary with all relevant organizations," the statement said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also confirmed there have been no talks about potentially rescheduling the games, in view of the ongoing outbreak, and the event will be held as scheduled this summer, Japan's Kyodo News reports.

"In terms of whether to hold the Tokyo Games (as scheduled), I'd like to make it clear that there have been no talks or plans being considered between organizers and the International Olympic Committee since the World Health Organization declared an emergency," Abe said during a Japanese parliamentary session on Thursday.

A spokesperson for the International Olympic Committee said in a statement sent to Newsweek: "The IOC is in contact with the World Health Organization, as well as its own medical experts.

"We have full confidence that the relevant authorities, in particular in Japan, China and the World Health Organization, will take all the necessary measures to address the situation. Preparations for Tokyo 2020 continue as planned and we look forward to returning for the next project review in February."

President of the IOC, Ugur Erdener from Turkey, told Turkey's Anadolu Agency: "The coronavirus has nothing to do with the 2020 Olympics as this outbreak won't block the games."

He said that Olympics officials are monitoring the situation and added that any athletes or coaching staff that are infected "won't be allowed [to enter Japan] of course."

Earlier this week, Abe told parliament that the government would "respond appropriately" to the developing situation of the virus, "while closely cooperating with the World Health Organization and other international organizations so that we can proceed with the preparations without letting it affect the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics," the Associated Press reports.

Japan's Sports Agency was reported to be conducting a survey in collaboration with various groups including the Japanese Olympic Committee and Japanese Para-Sports Association to ascertain how the virus has affected international competitions both within and outside of Japan as well as the impact on athletes' training camps, NHK World-Japan reports.

The agency is expecting to report the results of its findings by mid-February.

Newsweek has contacted the IOC, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) for further comment on this developing situation.

Japan is currently banning the entry of any foreign nationals who have been to Hubei in the last two weeks.

The JNTO currently advises: "There has been no widespread outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia in Japan at the time of writing [February 4]. There is no major cause of concern but please do take precautionary protection measures, such as wearing a mask if you have a cough and washing your hands.

"Foreign nationals who have visited Hubei Province within 14 days of arrival in Japan, or who have a Chinese passport issued by Hubei Province, will not be able to land in Japan except under special circumstances for the time being," it adds.

The 2020 Summer Olympics are scheduled take place from July 24 to August 9 in Tokyo.

This article has been updated with comment from the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and International Olympic Committee.

2020 Olympics National Stadium Tokyo Japan
A view of National Stadium, the official venue for the 2020 Summer Olympics, during the 99th Emperor's Cup final between Vissel Kobe and Kashima Antlers on January 1, 2020 in Tokyo. Getty Images

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