Coronavirus threat: ‘Olympics might be cancelled than postponed’

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Courtesy: Tokyo 2020

The International Olympic Council reportedly will wait and watch the Coronavirus threat till May to take a call on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. An IOC official, however, revealed that in a worst case scenario the Games might well be cancelled altogether than postponed.

The preparations for the Tokyo Olympic Games are going on as usual despite the threat of the deadly Coronavirus, which has infected over 81,000 people and claimed more than 2,750 lives across more than 40 nations,

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However a senior International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound has told the Associated Press news agency that there is a two to three month window for the IOC to take a call on the Tokyo Olympics. While ruling out the possibility of a postponement or relocation, Pond feared the Games could be cancelled altogether if it turned out to be too dangerous to host the Olympics in Tokyo.

The Coronavirus has already taken its toll on sports with a number of events being cancelled, postponed for athletes from China being denied entry in or other nations opting out of various international events.

A former Canadian swimming champion and he senior most member of the IOC, who is serving the global sports body since 1978, Pond had confirmed that if the IOC decided that the Games could not go forward as scheduled in Tokyo, “you’re probably looking at a cancellation”.

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Starting from China (78,000 cases, 2,715 deaths) in December, Coronavirus has now spread to South Korea (1,100+ cases, 12 deaths), Italy (322 cases, 11 deaths), Japan (164 cases, 1 death), Iran (95 cases, 16 deaths); Hong Kong (85 cases, 3 deaths) and around 35 other nations. There is no medicine or vaccine available so far to deal with the epidemic. The World Health Organisation has already declared it a global medical emergency.

The scenario looms like a major threat for the Games as over 11,000 athletes from across the globe are expected in Tokyo for the Olympics between July 24 and August 9 and another 4,400 will come for the Paralympics two weeks  later.

Pound, however, remains optimistic. “”As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo,” he told the international news agency. “All indications at this stage are 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.”

Incidentally, Tokyo was the host city in 1940 when the Games were cancelled for the only times due a wars since the inception of the Modern Olympics in 1896. The 2016 Rio Games in Brazil were organised as per scheduled despite the outbreak of the Zika virus.

Pound repeated the IOC’s stance – that it is relying on consultations with the World Health Organization, a United Nations body, to make any move.

As for the possibility of postponement, he said: “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 moving to another city also seems unlikely “because there are few places in the world that could think of gearing up facilities in that short time to put something on.” He also ruled out scattering of Olympic events to other places around the world because that wouldn’t “constitute an Olympic Games. You’d end up with a series of world championships”.

It would be extremely difficult to spread around the various sports over a 17-day period with only a few months’ notice, he added.

Postponing the Games by several months in Tokyo itself might not work out with the host broadcaster, whose schedules are full in the fall with American pro football, college football, European soccer, basketball, baseball and ice hockey. Other world broadcasters also have jammed schedules.

Pond was also doubtful about deferring the Games to next year as global schedules by the sports world bodies are worked years in advance and all of them would not be able to find a common window for the Olympics.

Tokyo Organising Committee for the Olympic Games might also find it tough to sustain the infrastructure and bear costs of maintenance and upkeep for one year. Tokyo 2020 is officially spending $12.6 billion to host the Olympics. The national audit board of Japan has put the costs almost twice the official figure.

The IOC in the event of a cancellation would suffer a loss of over $ 4 billion from the media rights income alone as the broadcast rights account for almost 73% of the IOC’s $5.7 billion revenue in a four-year Olympic cycle.

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