Canceling the 2020 Olympics is “unthinkable,” although the classification of the coronavirus as a pandemic will likely have some impact on the games, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Thursday.
“It can’t be said that the announcement of a pandemic would have no impact. . . . But I think cancellation is unthinkable,” Koike told reporters.
Doubts are increasingly being raised over whether the Olympics can be held as scheduled from July 24 to Aug. 9.
Organizers have insisted the games will go ahead as planned and the International Olympic Committee, with whom the final decision rests, has said there has not yet been any talk of cancellation or postponement.
The IOC has said it will coordinate closely with the World Health Organization, which has now officially classified the outbreak as a pandemic.
Koike vowed to work with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organizers on what she described as a “global issue,” promising to devote her “utmost efforts” to holding the games.
But the coronavirus has already taken a huge toll on sports across the globe with a long list of competitions affected.
The NBA said it would suspend the season starting on Thursday after a preliminary test on Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert came back positive for COVID-19.
In Italy, the hardest-hit European country, all sporting events including Serie A soccer have been suspended until April 3.
The coronavirus has already had some impact on the games, as the traditional flame-lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece, is expected to be held without spectators after dozens tested positive for the virus nearby.
The torch is due to arrive in Japan on March 20, but the arrival ceremony has also been scaled down, with some 200 children originally scheduled to attend now expected to miss it.
Olympic qualifying tournaments in several different sports have also been canceled, postponed or moved to different countries.
Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said on Wednesday that the games would go ahead as scheduled, although he admitted organizers are “concerned” about the virus, which has globally infected 124,000 people with 4,500 deaths.
Mori made the comments after a member of the organizers’ executive board sounded the alarm, warning postponing the games for two years might be the best option under the circumstances.
But Mori dismissed that option, as did Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto, who told a Diet committee that postponing or canceling the games was “inconceivable.”
Executive board member Haruyuki Takahashi had told the Asahi Shimbun it would be ideal to hold the Olympics as planned but “there has to be an alternative plan.”
“The coronavirus has become a global problem. We can’t just hold it (the Olympics) because Japan is OK,” he told the newspaper on Wednesday.
Takahashi said the summer two years from now “offers the best possibility” for a postponement, given the international sporting calendar, adding that “preparation must start now” if a delay is on the cards.
He insisted that it would be “impossible” to cancel the games altogether, and said he was speaking out as “a warning bell” for the organizing committee, adding that he would raise the issue at a board meeting later this month.