Uncertainty Surrounds Fate Of 2020 Tokyo Games As Covid-19 Outbreak Broadens

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin on July 24, and with about five months to go before the games start, the Covid-19 outbreak continues to worsen, with rising risks the Olympics could be delayed or canceled, reported The Times.

As of February 24, the deadly virus has infected more than 79,524, killed 2,626 and prompted more than 50 countries and territories to close their borders with China. The virus has spread uncontrollably in South Korea, Japan, and now in Europe, with cases, ex-China increasing.

Japan has the second-highest confirmed cases, with a total of 838 cases including four deaths, most of them are from a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported that Tokyo Olympic organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto recently said he was "extremely worried that the spread of the infectious disease could throw cold water on the momentum toward the Games."

Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said last week, "we are not considering a cancelation or postponement of the Games—let me make that clear."

However, Dr. Hitoshi Oshitani, a professor of virology at Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine in Sendai, warned that the Olympics couldn't take place tomorrow, considering the outbreak situation continues to worsen. 

"I'm not sure of the situation at the end of July," Oshitani said. He said it would be "difficult to have the Olympics (now)." 

With an expanding list of Tokyo events being postponed ahead of the Olympics, it suggests some form of disruption could be seen in the months ahead.

Unpaid volunteer training for the event has been delayed until May or even weeks before the event. Organizers acknowledge the games cannot operate without these volunteers.

The Tokyo Marathon on March 1 will exclude hundreds of elite runners for fear they may contract the deadly airborne virus.

Some Olympic qualifying events outside of Tokyo have been shifted to different regions or postponed until further notice.

On Monday, the first board meeting for the Milan-Cortina 2026 Olympics committee opted for a video conference call after an outbreak of the virus prompted several towns in northern Italy to close.

Some sporting events in Italy are being held behind closed doors: "Playing all sports behind closed doors for the next week could be possible, because then fans can more easily stay at home," said Maurizio Casasco, the president of the Italian federation for sports physicians

This could suggest as the crisis spreads across the world, the 2020 Olympic games might not be canceled, delayed, or relocated this summer, but rather a closed event that will be televised.

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 could create for Olympic organizers.

But there’s good news for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, if whatever reason the event is canceled or at least closed off to the public, his administration can blame the collapsing economy on the virus.