On Wednesday, Japan’s Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto told a parliamentary committee that canceling or postponing the Games was “inconceivable,” although she said the International Olympic Committee would make the final decision.
Even as coronavirus fears mount around the globe, IOC officials have been adamant that the Tokyo Games will take place as scheduled this summer. The IOC said it intends to follow advice from the World Health Organization, and IOC President Thomas Bach said the words cancellation and postponement were not even mentioned at an executive board meeting last week in Lausanne.
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin July 24.
“The decision is: The Games go ahead,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said last week. “That was made some time ago. We see no reason to change that decision. All the advice we have at the moment is, the Games are going ahead, from all the competent authorities.”
A pair of U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to the IOC Wednesday inquiring about its plan to safeguard athletes, fans, sponsors and journalists in Tokyo this summer, requesting “a transparent, detailed description of protocols in place to deter further spread of the disease.” Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) posed a series of questions to Bach, asking for contingency plans, details about the organization’s coordination with agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization and whether the IOC has a response plan prepared in the event that someone contracts the disease during the Tokyo Games.
“This public event, particularly with an exposed population that has a wide distribution geographically, is concerning,” the senators wrote. “If not handled properly, this year’s Olympic Games present a dangerous opportunity for COVID-19 to spread at unprecedented levels throughout the globe.”
Earlier in the day Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori said his team was not considering changing plans for the Games and claimed Takahashi had apologized for the comments.
But no sooner had those comments been reported, Takahashi doubled-down on his fears for the Olympics taking place as scheduled, telling Kyodo News that he would consider proposing a postponement when the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee meets at the end of this month. “In light of the reality, we need to respond accordingly,” he said.
Takahashi is one voice on the influential executive board. There are 24 others, and he’s the only one who has publicly urged a postponement.
Experts say a delay of one or two years would pose logistical problems in terms of the global sporting calendar but would fit in with U.S. broadcasters who provide much of the IOC’s funding and have freer summer schedules.
It would also wreak havoc on the schedules for athletes, who have been targeting the summer of 2020 and built their lives and training schedules around peaking competitively this year.
U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky, who figures to be one of the biggest American stars in Tokyo, said she has been following coronavirus headlines closely and remaining diligent about washing her hands and limiting her visits to crowded places. She trains at Stanford University, which has canceled in-person classes for the remainder of the quarter and moved all instruction online.
“In terms of how it affects the next couple of months, we’re all preparing like everything will go on as scheduled,” Ledecky said in an interview last week. “I trust USOPC, USA Swimming and everybody above them — IOC, CDC, World Health Organization — to make the right decisions. We’ll just follow their guidance and be flexible if we need to be."
Maese reported from Washington.