A week after Japan started canceling sport and cultural events amid the broadening of the Covid-19 outbreak, Seiko Hashitomo, Japan’s Olympic minister, raised the very real prospect of postponing The Olympic Games.
With deaths and cases soaring in Japan (now at almost 300 cases - ex Diamond Princess - and 12 deaths, though the numbers are widely questioned), Fox News reports that Hashimoto told the upper house of parliament:
“The IOC has the right to cancel the Games only if they are not held during 2020,” she
“This can be interpreted to mean the games can be postponed as long as they are held during the calendar year.”
Asked whether she believed the Games would be held if the coronavirus outbreak worsened, she replied:
“We are making the utmost effort so that we don’t have to face that situation.”
Notably, Japan's Olympic Minister's position is at odds with International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound, who told AP News last Wednesday that the Games would most likely be canceled, rather than postponed if the outbreak continued to worsen in the months ahead.
Pound said there's a three-month window to decide the fate of the Games:
"You could certainly go to two months out if you had to," he said, which would mean the decision would come around late May.
"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."
He noted that if the virus outbreak continued to deteriorate, then "you're probably looking at a cancellation."
"This is the new war, and you have to face it. 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.
"You just don't postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There are so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can't just say, we'll do it in October."
Pound said, moving the Games to another city is highly unlikely.
"To move the place is difficult because there are few places in the world that could think of gearing up facilities in that short time to put something on," he said.
Since 1896, the Olympics have only been canceled during wartime. And in 1976, 1980 and 1984 faced boycotts.
The longer the outbreak continues, the more uncertainty it would create for Olympic organizers. All eyes on May.