The longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee isn’t being alarmist when he talks about the decision officials will have to make about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the coronavirus. But he is realistic about how much time is left for a choice to be made.
Dick Pound, who has been a member since 1978, told The Associated Press that deadline is about three months out.
IOC could put off Olympics decision until May
IOC officials have maintained that the games are “on track” and the rapidly spreading COVID-19 coronavirus will not force a cancelation or postponement of any sort.
There are still five months until the Olympic games open July 24, with 11,000 people expected in Tokyo, per the AP. The Paralympic games open Aug. 25, with 4,400 expected. Pound said the last possible time to switch course would be about May.
“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Pound said, via the Associated Press. “A lot of things have to start happening. 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.”
The coronavirus began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and the country has reported 77,658 cases to date as of Tuesday and 2,663 deaths, per the AP. Five have died in Japan and pockets of the illness have started to appear around Europe and the Middle East.
It has forced the postponement of various Olympic qualifiers from boxing to soccer to badminton. The World Indoor Track and Field Championships were pushed back a full year to 2021. The Chinese gymnastics team withdrew from the World Cup that began Feb. 20 in Melbourne, Australia.
Pound to athletes: IOC won’t send you into pandemic
Pound’s message for the athletes is to not worry about the concerns and allow the IOC to protect them. He said the organization is depending on the World Health Organization to make any move and right now there is uncertainty.
“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.”
The IOC pushed back training for Tokyo Olympics volunteers due to the coronavirus. It is set for “May or afterwards” — the approximate time period Pound said a decision would have to be made by.
Difficult to postpone, move Olympics
Host cities are awarded the games years in advance to properly prepare. Tokyo was awarded the 2020 games in September 2013 and has spent that time building venues. The modern Olympic games can’t simply be moved anywhere given the needed infrastructure.
To postpone the games would mean messing with the TV schedule, which fills up after the lull of summer with NFL, college football, MLB playoffs, NBA and NHL seasons.
“It’s a big, big, big decision and you just can’t take it until you have reliable facts on which to base it,” Pound said. He said whatever advice the IOC is now getting, “it doesn’t call for cancellation or postponement of the Olympics. You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, we’ll do it in October.”
Pound said he also would not want to see the Olympics moved and played at various venues since it wouldn’t “constitute an Olympic Games. You’d end up with a series of world championships.”
Have Olympics ever been canceled?
The modern Olympics began in 1896 and over the past 124 years there have only been three that were canceled and all were due to war (1916, 1940, 1944). The 1940 Olympics were scheduled to be held in Tokyo, but were canceled due to World War II.
The games faced boycotts in 1976 in Montreal, 1980 in Moscow and 1984 in Los Angeles.
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