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Tokyo Olympics preparations continue despite coronavirus fears

World News | Published:

It comes after a member of the IOC claimed the event may have to be cancelled.

Tokyo Olympics torch

Tokyo Olympics organisers and the Japanese government have insisted preparations for this summer’s Games are continuing as planned, after a senior member of the International Olympic Committee claimed the event is being threatened by the spread of coronavirus.

Tokyo organising committee chief executive Toshiro Muto abruptly called a news conference late on Wednesday afternoon to address comments from Dick Pound, who has been a member of the IOC since 1978, serving two terms as vice-president.

Mr Pound had said: “You could certainly go to two months out if you had to. By and large you’re looking at a cancellation. This is the new war, and you have to face it. In and around there folks are going to have to say: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident of going to Tokyo or not?’”

Tokyo Olympics rings
The Olympics rings on display in Tokyo, where thousands are wearing face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus (Jae C Hong/AP)

He was speaking as a rank-and-file member and not part of the IOC’s present leadership, but his opinions are often sought in IOC circles.

But Mr Muto insisted: “Our basic thoughts are that we will go ahead with the Olympic and Paralympic Games as scheduled.

“For the time being, the situation of the coronavirus infection is, admittedly, difficult to predict, but we will take measures such that we’ll have a safe Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“That the end of May is the time-limit, we have never thought of this or heard of such a comment. So when we asked about this we received a response saying that is not the position of the IOC.”

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The viral outbreak of Covid-19 began in China and has infected more than 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700 globally. Five deaths in Japan have been attributed to the virus.

The IOC has repeatedly insisted the Tokyo Games will go ahead and has said it is following the advice of the World Health Organisation.

The Olympics open on July 24 with 11,000 athletes, followed by the Paralympics on August 25 with 4,400 athletes.

At a government taskforce meeting on Wednesday on the virus outbreak, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he is asking organisers to cancel or postpone major sports or cultural events over the next two weeks.

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Tokyo residents in face masks
Commuters wearing masks walk across a pedestrian crossing in Tokyo (Jae C Hong/AP)

“The next one-to-two weeks is extremely important for the prevention of the escalation of the infection,” Mr Abe said. “We ask organisers to cancel, postpone or scale down the size of such events.”

He did not name specific events but said he was speaking about nationwide events that attract large crowds.

Mr Muto declined to speculate about the future condition of the virus.

“I don’t think I can talk based on presumptions over what might happen months ahead. The Prime Minister has announced measures to be taken over the next two weeks and so we, too, are taking that into consideration. The biggest problem would be if this novel coronavirus infections spreads far and wide, so the most important thing to do is to take measures to prevent that from happening.”

He also said the torch relay will go ahead. It is to start in Japan on March 26 in Fukushima prefecture, 150 miles north-east of Tokyo.

“We absolutely do not think of cancelling (the torch relay),” Mr Muto said. “We’d like to think about how to implement it while preventing the spread of infection, including scaling down, or other ways.”

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