“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Dick Pound, an International Olympic Committee official since 1978, told the AP. “A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels. The media folks will be in there building their studios.”
If coronavirus makes it difficult to hold the Games as originally scheduled, Pound said, “you’re probably looking at a cancellation.” He added: “This is the new war, and you have to face it. In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask, ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?’”
The IOC will continue to confer with the World Health Organization and keep watch, although Pound said “all indications” point to the Games coming off without a hitch and on schedule. Still, much remains unknown and the WHO has warned countries to be “in a phase of preparedness,” although it has declined to categorize the outbreaks as a pandemic, in which epidemics become rampant in multiple countries and continents simultaneously.
On Tuesday, global disruptions worsened with the United Arab Emirates, a critical aviation hub, announcing that it has suspended travel to and from Iran, where authorities confirmed that the death toll has reached at least 15 and both the deputy health minister and a member of parliament have tested positive for the disease.
Both China and South Korea announced new cases of the coronavirus, with South Korea now up to 977 confirmed cases. The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan in China in December and there have since been more than 77,000 infections in that country, with 2,663 deaths. South Korea has the second-most cases and the illness has now appeared in Japan as well as Europe and the Middle East.
A number of organizations have taken precautionary steps when it comes to sports. Last week, the Asian Football Confederation announced that China’s scheduled home match against South Korea in the final round of qualifying for Tokyo would be held in Sydney because of concern over the virus.
Italy has been among the hardest-hit countries outside of Asia, with five soccer matches in the top soccer league (including a big game between Juventus and Inter Milan) played in closed stadiums as coronavirus cases have risen from three to over 300 in just a few days. The first board meeting for the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics was held by video conference.
The modern Olympics, which date from 1896, have been canceled only during wartime; there were boycotts in 1976, 1980 and 1984. The 1940 Olympics in Tokyo were canceled with Japan at war with China and World War II imminent. The Tokyo Games are expected to attract around 11,000 athletes with 4,400 participating in the Paralympics, which follow on Aug. 25.
The situation presently “doesn’t call for cancellation or postponement of the Olympics. You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics,” Pound 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.”
The IOC has built an emergency fund that the AP estimated includes about $1 billion to cover what Pound says “would be a lack of revenue on the Olympic Movement side,” with international sports federations dependent on income from the IOC.