As the world continues to grapple with the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, with hundreds of thousands infected already, experts are starting to question the likelihood of the Tokyo Olympics being held under normal conditions when the Games kick off in less than 150 days.
To add pressure to the situation, on Friday (March 13), US President Donald Trump appealed to the Tokyo Olympics organizers to delay the Games by a year due to the pandemic.
Staging of Tokyo Games Uncertain Amid Coronavirus Spread
Tokyo Olympic organizers, Japan’s Government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), on the other hand, have been adamant that the Games will go ahead as planned despite the global panic, as shared in a report by the Japan Times.
Meanwhile, the pneumonia-causing virus has prompted Nippon Professional Baseball to delay the start of its season, the J.League to extend its suspension of soccer matches, and the 15-day Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka to be held without spectators — an option that is appearing more feasible than outright cancellation of the games given the economic stakes.
In a local report released on Friday, SMBC Nikko Securities Inc estimated that cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics would reduce Japan’s annual gross domestic product growth by 1.4 percent.
As it is, the country’s economy is already weakening due to the drop in tourism, dampened domestic consumption, and cancellation of large-scale sports and cultural events nationwide throughout March.
Despite this, the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo Games organizers remain adamant that the July 24 to Aug 9 Olympics will be held as scheduled in the Japanese capital.
Commenting on the situation, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reiterated the government’s position Thursday after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
However, the looming threat of the sudden viral outbreak has some predicting the Games could be held behind closed doors.
Munehiko Harada, a professor at Waseda University’s Faculty of Sport Sciences shares his thoughts on the matter, noting: “There is no canceling an investment of 3 trillion yen (about $28 billion). What can be considered is holding the Games without spectators.“
Harada also predicted that the scale of the Games might be reduced, though, if organizers resolved to remove contact sports like judo and wrestling from this summer’s program to reduce the risk of infection.
A Japanese government panel of experts has estimated that the containment of the new coronavirus could take months or even last beyond the year if the virus survives warmer weather.
Meanwhile, the Olympic flame was ominously lit without spectators present Thursday in ancient Olympia as the number of coronavirus infections surged in western Greece.
The pandemic continues to hamper the Games’ preparations, as an increasing number of Olympic qualifiers and test events are postponed or canceled.
And while Japan struggles to curb the spread of the virus, some of its Olympic team members are electing to stay abroad during the final stretch of Olympic preparations rather than return home and risk infection.