A senior member of the International Olympic Committee has conceded the coronavirus outbreak could force the cancellation of this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
The revelation comes despite continued assurances from the organisers of the Tokyo Olympics that it would go ahead.
But Dick Pound, a former Canadian swimming champion who is the IOC’s longest-serving member, said the organisers have at best just 12 weeks to decide the fate of the world’s largest sporting event.
“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 told The Associated Press.
With the countdown clock ticking to the opening on July 24, Pound said the continuing spread of the coronavirus beyond China put pressure on the organisers to make a final decision on the $12.6 billion event.
“A lot of things have to start happening,” he said. “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.”
Japan has the second highest rate of coronavirus infections after China, with 695 people testing positive, most of them on a cruise ship docked at the city of Yokohama
Pound also ruled out any postponement of the Games.
“There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons” he said. “You can’t just say, `We’ll do it in October.’”
About 11,000 athletes are expected for the Olympics.
“As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo,” Pound said. “All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.”
Pound is not the only one nervous about the outbreak’s impact. Earlier this month Tokyo 2020 organizing committee chief executive Toshiro Muto said he was “extremely worried that the spread of the infectious disease could throw cold water on the momentum toward the Games”.
Just two weeks ago, organising committee president Yoshiro Mori insisted “we are not considering a cancellation or postponement of the Games – let me make that clear.”