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Top IOC member speculates Coronavirus threatens delivery of Tokyo Olympics

Top IOC member speculates Coronavirus threatens delivery of Tokyo Olympics
February 26, 2020

The longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee, Dick Pound has speculated that Tokyo 2020 could face 'cancellation' due to the fast-spreading Coronavirus.

Pound, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, did not sound alarmist rather he spoke frankly about the risks facing the Olympics and indicated that a cancellation is more likely than a postponement should challenges created by the Coronavirus prove insurmountable.

Pound, a Canadian official, who has been on the IOC since 1978, estimated there is a three-month window, perhaps a two-month one, to decide the fate of the Tokyo Olympics, meaning a decision could be put off until late May.

With the Games scheduled to commence on 24th July and run until 9th August, Pound advised “in and around that time (May), 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?"'

With a number of other major sporting events either being postponed or cancelled, the status of the Tokyo Olympics has recently been the subject of much debate.

As the Games draw near, Pound added, "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".

As of now Tokyo’s Games are on with Pound highlighting that the IOC is reliant on the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO). The Olympic Games have only previously been cancelled during wartime in 1916, 1940 and 1944.

Pound underlined that 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 noted “It’s a big, big, big decision and you just can’t take it until you have reliable facts on which to base it.”

The viral outbreak that began in China two months ago has infected more than 80,000 people globally and killed over 2,700, the vast majority of them in China.

However, the virus has now gained a foothold in South Korea, the Middle East and Europe, raising fears of a pandemic.

In Japan itself, there are reports of four deaths with the government having confirmed over 850 Coronavirus infections, yet most of these originate from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was docked in Yokohama. Japanese news agency Kyodo reports that the government had put in place a basic policy to allow its medical system to cope with any further spread of the Coronavirus, while maintaining that Japan has only seen small groups or “clusters” of infections.

Regardless, Pound is encouraging  athletes to keep training. About 11,000 are expected for the Olympics and 4,400 are bound for the Paralympics, which open on 25th August.

Pound enthused "as far as we all know, you're going to be in Tokyo.  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."

Meanwhile, Australian Sports Minister Richard Colbeck has said the country's Olympians could be pulled out of this year's games if it means their health is at risk.

Minister Colbeck told News Corp "Australian athletes are ready to make their mark at the Tokyo Olympics, but it should not be at the risk of their health and wellbeing.

"We continue to work with the relevant authorities both here and overseas to ensure our athletes remain safe and protected as the response to the Coronavirus continues."

Pound also noted that moving to another city would be unlikely "because there are few places in the world that could think of gearing-up facilities in that short time to put something on."

Pound advised he would not favour a dispersal of events over various venues because that wouldn't "constitute an Olympic Games. You'd end up with a series of world championships" adding that it would also be very difficult to spread around all these sports in a 17-day period with only a few month's notice.

Regarding the financial impact of a cancellation, Pound pointed to the IOC’s “emergency fund” for such circumstances, which is reported to be around US$1bn and would come to the aid of International Federations (IFs), as well as the IOC itself, that are reliant on Olympic Games revenue.

Pound added “this would be what you normally call a force majeure. It’s not an insurable risk and it’s not one that can be attributed to one or the other of the parties. So everybody takes their lumps. There would be a lack of revenue on the Olympic Movement side.”

About the author

Karen Sweaney

Editor, Australasian Leisure Management

Artist, geoscientist and specialist writer on the leisure industry, Karen Sweaney is Editor of Australasian Leisure Management. Based in Sydney, Australia, her specific areas of interest include the arts, entertainment, the environment, fitness, tourism and wellness.

She has degrees in Fine Arts from the University of Sydney and Geological Oceanography from UNSW.

Read more from this author

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