Will the Olympics Go Ahead? Japan's PM Says 'We May Have No Option' but to Consider Postponing Games Due to COVID-19 Outbreak

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has admitted the Olympic Games could be postponed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak as the current situation "isn't adequate." The President of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee has also conceded the Games could be delayed.

Abe conceded in a speech to parliament on Monday for the first time the Games could be postponed, if they can't be held in its "complete form" due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If that becomes difficult, we may have no option but to consider postponing the Games," Abe said, adding the current situation wasn't adequate to the holding of a global event.

Just a few hours later, Tokyo organizing committee chief Yoshiro Mori floated the possibility of postponing the Games, suggesting delaying the event was one of the contingency plans organizers were considering and that a decision would be made in four weeks.

With the exception of the two world wars, the Olympics have never been canceled since they began in their modern guise in 1896.

The games are scheduled to be held in Tokyo between July 24 and August 9 but their fate appears increasingly in doubt as the world battles to contain the virus.

Mori said he was aware a number of organizations had expressed to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach their concerns over whether the Games could proceed as planned, but insisted it was frustrating for organizers to be accused of not caring enough about the athletes' wellbeing. The former Japanese Prime Minister also conceded the financial hit of postponing the Games was a major issue for both the IOC and Tokyo's organizing body.

According to official figures, Japan has committed 1.45 trillion yen ($13.4 billion) to organizing the Olympics, with $277 million alone spent on building a new Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

Approximately 73 percent of the IOC's $5.7 billion income in the current four-year cycle derives from TV revenue, with NBC contributing to roughly 50 percent of the amount.

Mori's admission the Games could be delayed marks a significant change of approach from the organizing committee which, along with the IOC, had repeatedly and steadfastly refused to entertain the possibility of delaying the start of the Games or of canceling them altogether.

The latter of option was still not on the table, Mori insisted.

Canada and Australia olympic committees have already announced they won't send their athletes to the Games if they're held this year, while a number of other olympic committees, including the U.S., have called for a postponement.

On Sunday, the IOC revealed it had given itself a deadline of four weeks to make a decision over the fate of the Games, in the wake of mounting pressure from athletes and national olympic committees.

"In light of the worldwide deteriorating situation [...] the executive board has today initiated the next step in the IOC's scenario-planning," the Olympics governing body said in a statement.

"These scenarios relate to modifying existing operational plans for the Games to go ahead on 24 July 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the Games."

Tokyo 2020, coronavirus
A cauldron is seen on the stage ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Flame Arrival Ceremony at the Japan Air Self-Defense Force Matsushima Air Base on March 20 in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi, Japan. Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty

The IOC insisted cancelation was not an option, but acknowledged the "dramatic increase in cases and new outbreaks of COVID-19 in different countries" had prompted organizers to consider contingency plans.

"The IOC will, in full coordination and partnership with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the Japanese authorities and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, start detailed discussions to complete its assessment of the rapid development of the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including the scenario of postponement," the IOC said in a statement.

"The IOC executive board emphasized that a cancellation of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would not solve any of the problems or help anybody."

Last week, the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organizers acknowledged "no solution will be ideal" in preparing for the games, but they encouraged athletes to train as normal, despite coming under significant criticism.

"We have never discussed canceling the Games," the organizing committee told Newsweek on Wednesday.

However, a growing number of athletes have criticized the IOC for a lack of clarity and risking their health.

Four-time Olympic gold medalist and IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser called the IOC's stance "insensitive and irresponsible", while Greece's reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi accused organizers of "putting us in danger".

On Sunday, Bach wrote a letter addressed to the athletes, in which he admitted the IOC faced a dilemma but stressed "a final decision about the date of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 now would still be premature" and that postponing the game would be a huge logistical challenge.

"The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted," he said.

"These are just a few of many, many more challenges."

As of Monday morning, more than 1,100 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Japan, with 41 deaths and 235 people recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.

Over 14,700 people have died since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year. There are almost 340,000 cases globally, with 98,000 recovered.

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