200313 Olympics
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach speaks during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony on March 12, 2020 in ancient Olympia, ahead of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Image Credit: AFP

Berlin: The International Olympic Committee will follow the World Health Organisation’s recommendation on whether to cancel or postpone this year’s Tokyo Olympics over the coronavirus pandemic, IOC chief Thomas Bach said Thursday.

In an interview with German television ARD, Bach said his organisation has been in regular contact with WHO experts since mid-February over the issue.

“We will follow the advice of the WHO,” he said, adding that the IOC was now still working towards preparing for a “successful” Games.

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With cancellations of Olympic qualifiers piling up as countries unroll drastic measures to halt the contagion, Bach acknowledged that there are “serious problems with qualification competitions”.

“Here we will have to react very flexibly,” he said, adding that this could be through postponing competitions or changing qualification criteria.

What is key, he said, is that athletes, particularly those from countries hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, must be offered “fair qualification under these very difficult conditions”.

Japanese organisers have so far insisted that the pandemic will not derail the Games scheduled to run from July 24 to August 8, even if major sporting events, travel and financial markets are already seeing massive disruption worldwide.

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump became the first foreign leader to suggest delaying the Tokyo Olympics.

The US leader said that another alternative — holding competitions in empty stadiums — would be even worse than forcing a delay.