Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe does not believe the Tokyo Olympics can be held under current circumstances after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) admitted it was considering postponing the Games due to the coronavirus crisis.
“If I’m asked whether the Olympics can be held at this moment, I would have to say the world is not in such a condition,” Abe told a parliamentary session on Monday.
Canada became the first nation to say it would not take part in the Tokyo Olympics if the Games run as scheduled from July 24 to August 9. The Paralympic Games are from August 25 to September 6.
And there have been widespread calls for postponement from leading figures in the influential United States along with Britain, Australia and others.
“No-one wants to see the Olympic Games postponed but as I have said publicly, we cannot hold the event at all costs, certainly not at the cost of athlete safety, and a decision on the Olympic Games must become very obvious very quickly,” two-time Olympic champion and World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe wrote to IOC president Thomas Bach in a widely circulated letter.
German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB) president Alfons Hoermann welcomed the IOC’s move but said “we would have wished now for a clear statement that the Games definitely cannot take place on the planned dates and now advise is being taken on alternatives.”
Abe finally conceded the possibility of postponement a day after the IOC said it plans to decide whether or not to hold the Games within the next four weeks.
“We are not so stupid as to hold the Olympics as scheduled,” Tokyo Olympic organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said separately though Japanese Olympic Committee president Yasuhiro Yamashita warned postponement “would require understanding from many people. It would be very hard.”
Postponing the Games and Paralympics would cost Japan 640 to 670 billion yen (5.8 billion dollars to 6.1 billion dollars), Japanese experts believe.
Abe said he hoped to have an opportunity to discuss the issue with Bach though the final decision will be made by the IOC, the city of Tokyo and the Japanese Olympic Committee, the three parties who signed the host city contract when Tokyo landed the Games in 2013.
If Japan finds it difficult to hold the Olympics in their “complete form” due to the coronavirus pandemic, the country “must consider postponing them,” placing top priority on the health of the athletes, Abe told parliament.
The premier added that cancellation is not on the agenda, echoing the line taken by the IOC.
Only global conflict has previously caused complete cancellation of the Olympics, in 1916 due to World War I, and in 1940 and 1944 during World War II.
The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) decided not to send the country’s athletes to the Games “due to Covid-19 risks,” it said in a statement.
The COC and the Canadian Paralympic Committee urgently called for the Games to be postponed one year, it said.
And the Australian Olympic Committee told its athletes to prepare for Olympics in the summer of 2021, saying a team cannot be assembled now.
“It’s clear the Games can’t be held in July. Our athletes have been magnificent in their positive attitude to training and preparing, but the stress and uncertainty has been extremely challenging for them,” Australian Team Chef de Mission for Tokyo Ian Chesterman said.
Sports bodies from around the world have been putting increasing pressure on the IOC over the past few weeks and days, demanding the event be postponed as the number of infections increases worldwide.
World Athletics, governing body of one of the Olympic showcase sports, has indicated it would be ready to move its 2021 world championships if the Olympics has to be postponed by a year.
It was “ready to work with the (International Olympic Committee) IOC and all sport on an alternative date” for the Tokyo Games, it said in a statement.
Bach, who until now had resisted talks of postponing the event, said lives took precedence over everything else, including holding the Games. “The IOC wants to be part of the solution,” he added.
He said he hoped that in the end, there would be an “Olympic flame as the light at the end this dark tunnel.”
Despite Abe’s comment, Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto said that a toned-down torch relay will start on Thursday as scheduled near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, the site of the 2011 triple meltdown which was caused by a powerful earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
However, Abe is reluctant to attend the kick-off ceremony of the relay, Mori said. (dpa)