A senior member of the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday that if it proves too dangerous to hold the Olympics in Tokyo this summer because of the coronavirus outbreak, organizers are more likely to cancel it altogether than to postpone or move it.
Dick Pound, a former Canadian swimming champion who has been on the IOC since 1978, making him its longest-serving member, estimated there is a three-month window — perhaps a two-month one — to decide the fate of the Tokyo Olympics, meaning a decision could be put off until late May.
“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?’” he said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
As the games draw near, he said, “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 the IOC decides the games cannot go forward as scheduled in Tokyo, “you’re probably looking at a cancellation,” he said.
Pound encouraged athletes to keep training. About 11,000 are expected for the Olympics, which open July 24, and 4,400 are bound for the Paralympics, which open Aug 25.
“As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo,” Pound said. “All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual.”
The modern Olympics, which date to 1896, have been canceled only during wartime. The Olympics in 1940 were supposed to be in Tokyo but were called off because of World War II. The Rio Games in Brazil went on as scheduled in 2016 despite the outbreak of the Zika virus.
Pound repeated the IOC’s stance — that it is relying on consultations with the World Health Organization, a United Nations body, to make any move.
As for the possibility of postponement, he said: “You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. You can’t just say, `We’ll do it in October.’”
Pound said moving to another city also seems unlikely “because there are few places in the world that could think of gearing up facilities in that short time to put something on.”
London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has suggested the British capital as an alternative. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike suggested the offer was an attempt to use the virus for political purposes.
Pound said he would not favor a scattering of Olympic events to other places around the world because that wouldn’t “constitute an Olympic Games. You’d end up with a series of world championships.” He also said it would be extremely difficult to spread around the various sports over a 17-day period with only a few months’ notice.
Holding the Olympics in Tokyo but postponing them by a few months would be unlikely to satisfy North American broadcasters, whose schedules are full in the fall with American pro football, college football, European soccer, basketball, baseball and ice hockey. Other world broadcasters also have jammed schedules.
“It would be tough to get the kind of blanket coverage that people expect around the Olympic Games,” Pound said.
He also cast doubt on the possibility of a one-year delay. Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics, although a national audit board says the country is spending twice that much.
Pound said the IOC has been building up an emergency fund, reported to be about $1 billion, for unforeseen circumstances to help the IOC and the international sports federations that depend on income from the IOC. About 73% of the IOC’s $5.7 billion income in a four-year Olympic cycle comes from broadcast rights.
Pound said the future of the Tokyo Games is largely out of the IOC’s hands and depends on the course the virus takes.
A spokesman for the Japanese government on Wednesday said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and local organizers are going as planned with the Tokyo Olympics.
“With regard to this member’s comment, the IOC has responded that this is not their official position, and that IOC is proceeding with preparations toward the games as scheduled,” Suga said, speaking in Japanese at his daily news conference.
"The IOC is preparing for the Tokyo Games as scheduled," Minister Seiko Hashimoto said in parliament when asked about Pound's comment. "We will continue our preparations so that the IOC can make sound decisions."
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