Coronavirus Japan Update: IOC Insists Tokyo Olympics 2020 Will Go Ahead, Urges Athletes to Prepare

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has quelled fears the coronavirus outbreak could force the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan.

The games are scheduled to be held in Tokyo between July 24 and August 9, but their fate has been thrown in jeopardy by the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The IOC's executive board, however, insisted it remained committed to ensuring the Games will go ahead as planned.

"The IOC EB [Executive Board] heard a report on all the measures taken so far to address the coronavirus situation, which was followed by a comprehensive discussion," it said in a release circulated after its executive board met in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

"A joint task force had already been created in mid-February, involving the IOC, Tokyo 2020, the host city of Tokyo, the government of Japan and the World Health Organization (WHO).

"The IOC EB appreciates and supports the measures being taken, which constitute an important part of Tokyo's plans to host safe and secure Games.

"The IOC will continue to follow the advice of WHO, as the leading United Nations agency on this topic."

The Olympics governing body added it encouraged all athletes to continue their preparations for Tokyo 2020 as normal and praised the "great unity and solidarity of the athletes, National Olympic Committees, International Federations and governments."

Speaking on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Japan was doing "all it can to contain the outbreak" and that he was hopeful the country will make progress sooner rather than later.

He then confirmed the WHO was working closely with the IOC and the Japanese government to monitor the situation, but suggested it would be premature to decide the Olympics' fate five months before the scheduled start.

"I think deciding now could be too early, so it would be good to monitor the situation and then, of course, the Japan government and IOC and WHO will discuss and announce any actions that should be taken," he explained.

Over 3,000 people have died since the outbreak began in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year.

As this chart provided by Statista shows, the virus has spread to over 70 countries across the world including Japan, which has reported over 1,000 cases and 12 confirmed deaths as of Tuesday.

Coronavirus, COVID-19
Spread of the COVID-19 virus across the world as of March 3. Statista

Earlier on Tuesday, Japan's Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto suggested the Games could be postponed until the end of the year as Japan battles to contain the virus.

"The IOC has the right to cancel the games only if they are not held during 2020," Hashimoto told parliament on Tuesday,

"This can be interpreted to mean the games can be postponed as long as they are held during the calendar year. We are doing all we can to ensure that the games go ahead as planned."

The 1964 and 1968 Olympics were held in October, but the games have since shifted permanently to their traditional summer slot.

Delaying the start of the Olympics would prove an almost insurmountable logistical challenge, given the Games fall into a two-week window that is normally free for most major sports—MLB being one of the most notable exceptions.

Last week, Dick Pound, the IOC's longest-serving member, warned that an event of the magnitude of the Olympics could not be postponed or rescheduled.

"You just don't postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics," he said.

"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.'"

Thomas Bach, IOC
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach delivers a statement on the COVID-19 situation during a meeting of the executive board at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne on March 3. The COVID-19 which has already killed more than 3000 people in the world and is threatening the 2020 Olympics less than five months before the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Tokyo. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

About the writer

Dan Cancian is currently a reporter for Newsweek based in London, England. Prior to joining Newsweek in January 2018, he was a news and business reporter at International Business Times UK. Dan has also written for The Guardian and The Observer. 

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts