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Florida official offers up his state should Tokyo decide to pass on Olympics

Amid speculation that the Tokyo Olympics could be canceled as Japan navigates a surge in coronavirus cases this month, Florida has offered itself up as a replacement host.

Jimmy Patronis, the state’s chief financial officer, issued a letter to the International Olympic Committee and its president, Thomas Bach, on Monday, encouraging the IOC to consider relocating the competition to Florida. Patronis cited “media reports” in his letter, suggesting Japanese officials are privately “too concerned about the pandemic for the 2021 Olympics to take place.”

Patronis seemed to reference a story from last week in the Times of London that cited a source in the Japanese government who “privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be canceled because of the coronavirus” and that Tokyo’s focus has shifted to securing the Games in 2032, the next available year. A surge in coronavirus cases, which this month prompted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo, has amplified pressure to cancel this summer’s Olympics, although Japanese senior officials denied the report.

With six months to go, the Tokyo Olympics are swimming against a tide of doubt

Patronis, who in his letter referenced competitions held in Florida including a UFC Fight Night event in Jacksonville in May and the NBA’s Disney World bubble, argued his state has the infrastructure to host the Games on short notice. At least one other government figure, a British mayoral candidate, made a similar appeal last year.

The Tokyo Olympics, which were rescheduled from 2020 to open July 23, 2021, have been seven years in the making and will cost Japan about $25 billion of mostly public money, according to the Associated Press.

As Japan endures its current spike in cases while hoping to start vaccinations in February, Florida is navigating its own issues with vaccine distribution. Japan, which has a population of 126 million, has had 372,496 confirmed cases. Florida, with a population of 21 million, has had 1.6 million cases. Less than 1 percent of its population has been fully vaccinated.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked Tuesday whether she could see the Biden administration supporting Patronis’s effort.

“Well, that’s a lot of steps that need to take place and I don’t know the entire process of the Olympics, but I would certainly send you to the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee first on what their assessment of that offer is, and certainly of course what their assessment is of Japan’s preparedness for the Olympics,” she said.

A U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee spokesman reiterated the organization’s support for current organizers in a statement: “We were not made aware of the letter to President Bach in advance. We invite American cities to indicate to us their interest in hosting a future Olympic and Paralympic Games, and we are happy to work with them through the education and fact-finding process. We are thrilled that Los Angeles will host the next Olympic and Paralympic Games in the United States.

“We stand in support of the Tokyo Organizing Committee and Japanese government who have given more than seven years of focus and dedication to welcoming the athletes of the world, and honor their efforts to host a safe and successful Games this summer.”

Rick Maese contributed to this report.

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