By Daniel Llanto
A cancellation or postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo starting July 24 is not going to happen despite the spread of the new deadly virus, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government assured.
These rumors started to gain credence when the IOC, as well as the Japanese organizers were silent for several days. Only this week did they address the rumors so that the 2020 Games would not go the way of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro because of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
Japan has so far reported no deaths from the corona-virus that has killed more than 200 people in China.
“We have never discussed canceling the games,” Tokyo organizers said in a statement disseminated to media around the world. “Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with the IOC and relevant organizations and will review any counter-measures that may be necessary so the Games would proceed as scheduled.”
Rumors of a cancellation spread with reports that the Swiss-based IOC has met with the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of the virus public health experts now call new corona-virus advanced respiratory disease (nCoV ARD). The WHO has called the virus a global emergency.
“Preparations for Tokyo 2020 continue as planned,” the IOC also said in a statement. “It is normal practice for the IOC to collaborate with all the main UN agencies, as necessary, in the lead-up to the games and this naturally includes the WHO.”
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, speaking earlier in the week to the heads of 62 municipalities, warned about the dangers. Japan has also urged citizens not to travel to China.
“We must firmly tackle the new corona-virus to contain it, or we are going to regret it,” she said.
The rumors that spread on-line came with thousands of comments on Twitter under the hashtag in Japanese “Tokyo Olympic Canceled.”
The IOC has faced challenges like this before and carries insurance for such possibilities. It has canceled Olympics during wartime, and faced boycotts in 1980 and 1984. It also held the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City just months after the 9-11 attacks in the United States.
The larger problem for the Olympics would be the qualifying events in China and elsewhere being canceled or postponed. International sports federations will have to re-schedule events and Chinese athletes could present extra challenges and screening.
World Athletics, the governing body of track and field, announced earlier in the week it was postponing the world indoor championships in Nanjing, China, until next year. The event had been scheduled for March 13 to 15.
Travel, screening and allaying fears are certain to be more complicated if the outbreak continues. The 11,000 athletes expected to compete at the Tokyo Olympics will also face pressure to stay safe.
Sponsors and television networks which invested billions of dollars will also try to keep the games on track.
Demand for Olympic tickets in Japan is unprecedented, exceeding supply by at least 10 times. Organizers say 7.8 million tickets are being issued for the Olympics.
Organizers say they are spending about $12,6 billion to put on the games. But a national audit bureau says the costs are twice that much.