23 Mar 2020

Tokyo organizers quietly plan for potential Olympic delay, sources say

5:54 am on 23 March 2020

Tokyo 2020 organizers have started drafting possible alternatives to holding the Olympics this summer, two sources familiar with the talks say, in contrast to the Japanese government's stance that postponement is not an option.

People wearing a mask walk near the Olympics' mark in Odaiba, Tokyo, amid the outbreak of a new coronavirus in Japan.

Photo: Yomiuri/AFP

While the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted sports events around the world, Japan has been steadfast in saying that the Games will go on. The top government spokesman on Wednesday said Tokyo wasn't preparing for postponement.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has staked his legacy as Japan's longest-serving premier on the Games and is hoping for a boom in tourism and consumer spending. At risk is more than $3 billion in domestic sponsorship, an Olympic record, and some $12 billion spent on preparations.

"Finally, we have been asked to make a simulation in case of a postponement," said one of the sources, an official close to the organizing committee who is involved in drafting the scenarios.

Both sources spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

"We are making alternative plans - plan B, C, D - looking at different postponement time-frames," said the official, adding the scenarios included cost estimates for different delays.

Other sources within the Olympic movement said the IOC was likely to hold an unscheduled executive board meeting as early as this week.

Neither Tokyo 2020 organizers nor the International Olympic Committee (IOC) immediately responded to a request for comment. The government of Japan could not be reached for comment.

Growing opposition

The IOC faced mounting opposition to the current schedule for the Tokyo 2020 Games as athletes, teams and federations called for a delay.

IOC President Thomas Bach, who has insisted the Games will go ahead as planned, said any decision to change an Olympic Games was not a simple matter like rescheduling a football match and would need careful planning and information.

"The Olympic Games cannot be moved like a football game next Saturday," he told Germany's SWR broadcaster. "It is a complex undertaking and you can only act responsibly when you have a clear decision-making foundation."

He also ruled out cancelling the 24 July to 9 August Games.

"A cancellation of the Games would be the least fair solution. A cancellation would destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes of 206 Olympic committees."

Countries have sealed borders and enforced lockdowns to fight the pandemic. The virus has killed around 13,000 people since surfacing in China at the end of last year.

As the virus triggers more restrictions and claims more victims around the globe, pressure at least to delay the event is increasing.

Serbian and Croatian sports bodies added their opposition to the IOC's plans to proceed, while German former world champion fencer Max Hartung, who has already qualified for Tokyo, said he would boycott the Games.

"Japan has invested a lot of resources into the Olympics and they are adamant that the Games should go ahead, but that defies common sense and we cannot support it because human lives come first," Serbian Sports and Youth minister Vanja Udovicic said.

President of the Croatian Olympic Committee, Zlatko Matesa, said it was "impossible" to proceed with the Olympics under the current circumstances.

"Sports is not an issue now as competing has become impossible," Matesa said. "I believe it is impossible for the Games to go ahead as scheduled and in my opinion they should and will be postponed for a few months. It won't be a dramatic delay."

Germany's Hartung, a four-times European champion who also heads the German Olympic Committee's athletes' commission, said he could no longer justify competing in Tokyo and said everyone had to play their part in stopping the spread of the virus.

"I have taken my decision. This summer I will not be taking part at the Olympic Games at the scheduled dates," he told German broadcaster ZDF.

"I cannot train at the moment but more importantly I thought how can I as a sportsman contribute to end this crisis and I can do that by showing strength to do the right thing instead of training. So those dates in my view are not possible."

USA Track and Field, USA Swimming, the Brazilian Olympic Committee, UK Athletics and the French Swimming Federation have also urged the IOC to postpone the multi-billion dollar event.

Many athletes who are unable to train or compete have also demanded a postponement as qualifying events have been scrapped and training facilities shut down.

- Reuters