Coronavirus latest: IOC steadfast as doubts grow over Tokyo

IOC president Thomas Bach (C,L) and Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos (C,R) (by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday remained steadfast in its messaging that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will go ahead, as doubts around the event grow.

Japan Today reported that, after an executive board meeting in Lausanne, the IOC said it “remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive.”

The cancellation of sports events around the world this week has raised further questions over whether the Tokyo Games can proceed.

Polls of the Japanese public suggest declining support for the event taking place on schedule. The Asahi newspaper published a poll on Tuesday that said 63 per cent of Japanese thought the Games should be postponed, with 23 per cent saying they should go ahead as planned. A Kyodo News poll on Monday said 70 per cent do not think it will go ahead as planned.

Canadian IOC member Hayley Wickeneheiser published a statement yesterday on her Twitter account saying that it would be “insensitive and irresponsible” to go ahead with the Games as scheduled.

The reigning Olympic women’s pole vault champion, Greece’s Katerina Stefanidi, told Reuters that the IOC was putting the health of athletes at risk by telling them to continue to train for Tokyo 2020.

Reuters separately reported that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, speaking after a videoconference meeting of G7 country leaders to discuss the epidemic, said the leaders supported a “complete” Olympics. Abe avoided questions about whether the issue of postponement had been discussed.

Speaking after yesterday’s board meeting, IOC president Thomas Bach said: “The health and well-being of all those involved in the preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is our number-one concern.

“All measures are being taken to safeguard the safety and interests of athletes, coaches and support teams. We are an Olympic community; we support one another in good times and in difficult times. This Olympic solidarity defines us as a community.”

The IOC also said any decisions it makes on staging the games “will not be determined by financial interests, because thanks to its risk management policies and insurance it will in any case be able to continue its operations and accomplish its mission to organise the Olympic Games”.

The organisation’s decision-making around the Games is being led by a taskforce comprised of the IOC, the World Health Organisation, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, Japanese authorities and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

One of the biggest current challenges for the Olympics is that many qualifying events have been cancelled. The IOC said 57 per cent of athletes had so far qualified. For the remaining 43 per cent, the IOC is working with international federations to figure out qualification routes.

French OC head sees May deadline

The head of the French Olympic Committee, Denis Masseglia, told Reuters that if the coronavirus outbreak has not been controlled by the end of May, the Olympics could not go ahead.

“My feeling is that if we’re still in the crisis by the end of May, I can’t see how the Games can happen (on time),” he said.

“If we are beyond the peak and the situation is getting better questions will arise about who qualifies, but we will find the least worst solution.”

The IOC discussed the impact of the epidemic with international sports federations yesterday, and will hold a similar conference call with National Olympic Committees today.

Masseglia suggested no major decision was likely to arise from these meetings. “I trust the IOC and I’m waiting for more information although I’m not sure we’ll get a lot more on Wednesday,” he said.

Relay crowd confusion

At a press conference yesterday, Tokyo 2020 organising committee CEO Toshiro Muto struggled to clarify guidance regarding spectators for the torch relay in Japan, which is to begin on March 26.

Japan Today reported that, at a press conference, he said spectators will be allowed to watch at the roadside, but are encouraged to stay away if they feel unwell and to avoid gathering together in large crowds. After being pressed by journalists on what crowd behaviour organisers were seeking to avoid, he said: “We don’t want to talk about the definition of ‘refraining’. But we don’t want people to feel there is an all-out blanket request for refraining. So basically it depends on you interpretation.”

Japan Today reported Muto said he had not discussed with sponsors of the torch relay any concerns about loss of value in their sponsorships.

Other news

The deputy chief of the Japanese Olympic Committee and president of the Japanese Football Association, Kozo Tashima, has tested positive for the coronavirus. Tashima recently returned to Japan on March 8 from meetings with football officials in Europe, including. the meeting of the International Football Association Board in Belfast, Northern Ireland on February 28; and Uefa meetings in Amsterdam on March 2 and 3. He also travelled to the US to watch the Japanese women’s team play and to lobby for the women’s World Cup.

A 21-year-old youth football coach from Malaga, Spain has died after contracting the coronavirus. Francisco Garcia, who worked with second division side Atletico Portada Alta, was found to have leukaemia after being taken to hospital with severe coronavirus symptoms.

Vittorio Gregotti, an Italian architect who designed the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Stadium, has died at the age of 92 after contracting the coronavirus.

The Association of Summer Olympic International Federations has postponed its General Assembly until November. It was due to take place in Lausanne on April 21, during the now-cancelled SportAccord conference. The ASOIF GA is likely to take place alongside the SportAccord IF Forum on November 4-6 in Lausanne.

The 2019-20 Clipper Round the World yacht race has been postponed. The race had three legs remaining, which will now be postponed for about 10 months, the race organiser said. The race fleet has been in Subic Bay, Philippines since March 15, where the crews have been quarantined. Organisers said the postponement affected future races and the next full season would now start in 2022.

The 2020 Association of Southeast Asian Nations Para Games in the Philippines has been postponed to October 3-9. The event has been postponed several times. It was first due to take place on January 18-24, then on March 20-28, and then on unspecified dates in May or June. The Asean Para Sports Federation Board of Governors will meet again in July to assess the October timing.