Tokyo: The president of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics organising committee rebuffed speculation on Wednesday that the Games might be cancelled due to deepening concern about the coronavirus outbreak, declaring that was not an option.
“I am totally not considering this,” Yoshiro Mori told reporters at a briefing when asked about a possible cancellation. Asked when the organisers could decide on changes to the Olympics, he said: “I’m not God so I don’t know.”
He also said he was happy to hear International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach saying he was confident the Tokyo Olympics would be held on schedule. Tokyo Olympics committee CEO Toshiro Muto also voiced confidence the Summer Games would begin on July 24 during a call with the IOC board. The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Japan topped the 1,000 mark on Wednesday, mostly from the Diamond Princess cruise liner, as the government reiterated that plans to host the Tokyo Olympics in July remained on track.
Five new infections were reported as of Wednesday afternoon, in locations from Yamaguchi prefecture in the west to Hokkaido in the north, underlining the virus’ spread across the country and raising questions about whether the Olympics can go ahead.
“We would steadily proceed with our preparations while closely coordinating with the IOC (the International Olympic Committee) and the organising committee,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a regular news conference.
The Olympics are scheduled to open in less than five months and IOC head Thomas Bach on Tuesday reiterated his backing for this summer’s Games despite the coronavirus threat, urging athletes to prepare “full steam.” Still, there are worries the Games could be postponed or even cancelled. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has asked schools to close this month, companies are encouraging employees to work from home and sporting events are being cancelled or played in empty arenas.
Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto fuelled concerns about a delay, saying on Tuesday that Tokyo’s contract with the IOC “could be interpreted as allowing a postponement” until the end of the year, although she reiterated the government remained committed to the Games starting on July 24.
Hashimoto also indicated the end of May could be a key date for making any decisions related to a possible cancellation.
Masa Takaya, a Tokyo 2020 organising committee spokesman, said on Wednesday the government had clarified its commitment for the Games to proceed, and there was no deadline on a decision whether to postpone.
“We have been informed from the Olympic minister that she is absolutely on the same page and the Games will go ahead as planned.”
The head of the World Health Organization said he had confidence in Japan’s efforts and hoped for progress, but that the WHO was watching developments and talking with the IOC.
“What we have agreed is that we monitor the situation and then of course with the government of Japan, if there is a need for any actions then we can discuss with the Japanese government,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva on Tuesday.
The epidemic has already been affecting related events in the run up to the Games.
Crowds will be smaller and receptions have been scrapped at the Tokyo 2020 torch-lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia, Greece, next week as the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) introduced measures to protect against the coronavirus, it said on Tuesday.
Rugby test event called
Japan, meanwhile, cancelled the Tokyo Olympics’ rugby test event on Tuesday in the latest disruption caused by the new coronavirus, which has raised concerns over whether the Games will go ahead on time.
Organisers said they couldn’t guarantee a safe running of the Asia Sevens Invitational, scheduled for April 25-26.
“As the impact of the novel coronavirus spreads across the world, we are not able to guarantee that the tournament will be held safely at this point,” Japan Rugby Football Union said in a statement.
The tournament’s demise comes after the Hong Kong and Singapore Sevens were postponed as chaos caused by the virus sweeps through the sporting calendar.
In Japan, a wheelchair rugby test event for the Paralympics was cancelled this week, while training for Olympics volunteers was postponed and the nationwide torch relay looks set to be scaled back.