Coronavirus latest: Bach says IOC not considering Tokyo cancellation, J-League scraps relegation, and more

IOC President Thomas Bach addresses during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has insisted that cancelling this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo due to the Covid-19 outbreak is not under consideration.

Speaking to the New York Times newspaper, Bach (pictured) said that a number of plans are being considered by the IOC amid fears the pandemic could impact its showpiece event.

Organisers have repeatedly insisted that the Games will go ahead but with a number of upcoming major events across a range of sports having already been postponed or cancelled, question marks remain over whether the Olympics will suffer the same fate.

The Olympics are due to take place from July 24 to August 9, with the Paralympics to follow from August 25 to September 6. An IOC task force has said that it is too early to decide whether the pandemic will impact the Games but Bach is confident they will not be cancelled.

“The cancellation is not on the agenda,” he told the New York Times. “We are committed to the success of these Games.”

Bach added: “We don’t know what the situation will be. Of course we are considering different scenarios, but we are contrary to many other sports organisations or professional leagues in that we are four and a half months away from the Games.

“What makes this crisis so unique and so difficult to overcome is the uncertainty. Nobody today can tell you what the developments are tomorrow, what they are in one month, not to mention in more than four months.”

Bach also said the decision will not hinge on financial interests, stating that the IOC’s risk management policies and insurance will mean it can continue operations and “continue to accomplish our mission”.

Meanwhile, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe told G7 leaders that he had not yet decided whether to postpone the Olympics, US president Donald Trump has said.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Trump told a White House press conference: “That’s a big decision for him…it’s a tough situation. He told us he has not made a decision as to what to do.”

The Group of Seven (G7) country leaders met earlier this week to discuss the coronavirus epidemic.

Pressure has been mounting on the International Olympic Committee to reconsider its determination to go ahead with Tokyo 2020 as scheduled. In recent days, athletes and sports officials have expressed concern about the IOC’s approach.

Yesterday, there were public statements from various athletes and officials going either way, some supporting the IOC and some against it.

Continental Olympic bodies the European Olympic Committees, the Oceania National Olympic Committees, the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa and Panam Sports made statements in support of the IOC’s stance.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe told a press conference yesterday that a postponement of the Games was possible. He said: “I think the position that sport has taken, and it was certainly the temperature of the room in the conversation I had the other day with the IOC and our other federations, is that nobody is saying we will be going to the Games come what may.”

Coe said a postponement to 2021 would be complicated by the fact that many federations schedule championships in Olympic off-years. UK newspaper The Guardian reported he said: “The sporting calendar is a very complicated matrix, it’s not that simple to just simply say we’ll ease one event from one year to the next.”

Nikkei reported that Japan Olympic Committee board member Kaori Yamaguchi said Tokyo 2020 should be postponed because athletes have not been able to prepare properly.

The commissioner and chief executive of the Asian Tour golf series, Cho Minn Thant, told Agence France-Presse that he thought it was “highly unlikely” Tokyo 2020 would go ahead as planned. Cho said Asian golfers would be disadvantaged if it did, because their opportunities to qualify had been cut short by tournament cancellations.

Meanwhile, the Olympic flame started its journey from Greece to Japan, as Japanese officials received it at a scaled down ceremony at Athens’ Panathenaic stadium. Reuters reported an “eerie” mood at the ceremony, which took place without spectators as Greece is largely under lockdown.

In a video message at the ceremony, Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori said: “Tokyo 2020 commits to be in readiness for the Games as planned…The concept of the Tokyo relay is ‘Hope lights our way’. I hope that the light will shine on the hearts of people all over in Japan and that will shake off the dark clouds hanging over the earth.”

Australian OC defends Olympic preparations

Australian Olympic Committee chief executive Matt Carroll and Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman defended their decision to follow the IOC’s advice and push ahead with preparations for Tokyo.

Reuters reported that Carroll said: “If everyone is planning for the Games, we must plan for the Games…

“We have four months. Think back to where this virus was a month ago, things have changed.

“Nobody is quite sure how things will pan out over four to six months. They don’t need to make a decision today, they’re taking a measured approach. They’re getting the best possible advice they can possibly get.

“If things change, then the IOC’s decisions will change.”

Reuters reported that Chesterman said the AOC was looking at creating ‘coronavirus-free’ pre-Games training camps for its athletes, in Australia and Japan, and using charter flights to transport them.

J-League suspends relegation, but allows promotion

Japanese football’s J-League has suspended relegation for the 2020 season, but will allow teams in the second and third divisions to be promoted.

The Japan Times reported that all 56 clubs in the league agreed to what the newspaper described as an “extraordinary” move.

Usually, two teams are automatically promoted and relegated from each of the first and second division, with a playoff deciding a third promotion/relegation place. Under the new plan, two clubs would be automatically promoted from each of the second and third divisions, increasing the top division from 18 to 20 teams and the second division from 20 to 22 teams. In the 2021 season, four teams will be relegated from the top division, and two promoted from the second, restoring the current 18- and 22-team divisions, respectively.

League chairman Mitsuru Murai said the move was being taken to encourage players to compete and to avoid punishing clubs under the current difficult circumstances.

The league is currently suspended, due to restart on April 3, although a final decision on the restart will be taken on March 25.

“There are going to be a lot of obstacles in the way, and the competition may not be balanced or fair, but we want soccer to continue,” Murai said.

“There are areas with lots of infections and areas with none where kids are already going back to school. Some teams may be able to play, and other teams might not be able to, disrupting the integrity of the competition.

“Some teams might have to deal with several games behind closed doors on short notice. … If we play during the Olympics or international match windows then teams may be without their national team players.

“Even if managers have to use players from their youth team (to fill the squad in the event that top-team players are quarantined), we want matches to be played.”

Warriors stand their ground

The New Zealand Warriors NRL team said it would remain in Australia indefinitely so that the league could continue.

After Australia and New Zealand imposed 14-day quarantines on all entering travellers, the Auckland-based team met on Thursday and decided to remain where they are in Australia so that they could continue playing.

Warriors CEO Cameron George said: “I feel like our guys thought if they walked away it might have started to crack the game. If we walked away from what’s before us I think that might have started to break down the competition and cause some dramas.

“The NRL need us now, we’re there, we’re standing tall and we’re very proud of doing that for our fans and our families.

“I think the rugby league fraternity in New Zealand and Australia should be very proud [of us].

“Regardless of the footy results, one thing I can promise you is that these guys aren’t walking away from the challenge ahead.”

Other news

Fina, the international swimming federation, postponed the Diving World Cup, scheduled to take place in Tokyo on April 21-26, and the Artistic Swimming Olympic Games Qualification Tournament, scheduled to take place on April 30-May 3, until June. The exact dates are yet to be confirmed.

Fifa is opening up an online archive of its matches for free to viewers around the world, to provide entertainment for those isolated at home. Full match replays of more than 30 matches from the World Cup and Women’s World Cup will be published for the first time on FIFA.com, the FIFA You Tube channel and on Weibo in China from Saturday, March 21. The #WorldCupAtHome initiative will include a social media engagement element allowing fans to select their favourite matches to be re-broadcast until further notice.

A player from a second-division Chinese football team has tested positive for the coronavirus, raising questions over a mooted restart of Chinese league football in April or May. The positive test was for Brazilian player Dori at Meizhou Hakka and followed the team’s attendance at a training camp in Thailand. A restart of the Chinese league has not been formally announced, and would require go-ahead from the government.

The United Arab Emirates on Thursday suspended all sports events until further notice. The government order raises doubts over the Dubai World Cup horse race on March 28, which has previously said it will take place behind closed doors.

Envision Group, the Chinese digital technology and energy company that owns the Envision Virgin Racing Formula E team, has established a face mask manufacturing centre; is donating masks to Japan, South Korea and other locations; and has donated RMB50m ($7m) to the coronavirus relief effort in China.

Manchester United committed to paying its matchday and non-matchday casual workers at its Old Trafford stadium, even if Premier League matches were cancelled or played behind closed doors for the rest of the season. Ed Woodward, the club’s executive vice chairman, said: “We rely on our outstanding staff to deliver an exceptional service and experience to fans at Old Trafford. We understand that these are unprecedented circumstances and want to give them security whatever may happen regarding our remaining fixtures this season. We look forward to welcoming back all our supporters – and our colleagues – to Old Trafford as soon as possible.”

India’s sports ministry advised all national sports federations to refrain from conducting tournaments and trials until at least April 15, and to keep Olympic athletes isolated from anyone not in their training camp.

Academics in Indonesia criticised the protocol issued by the country’s Youth and Sports Ministry this week advising sports on the measures they should take during the epidemic. The Jakarta Post interviewed several academics who said variously that the ministry should have acted faster, and that the protocol should have included mandatory rather than voluntary measures. The academics said the ministry must now closely monitor whether the protocol was being followed.

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has extended the suspension of its men’s and women’s Pro League competitions from April 15 until May 17.

Prince Albert II of Monaco, an International Olympic Committee member and a patron of the annual Sportel sports media industry conferences and awards, has tested positive for the coronavirus.