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Coronavirus threat looms large over Tokyo Olympics 2020

With each passing day, the concerns over Tokyo Olympics increase due to the deadly outbreak of COVID-19. 

Rishabh Gupta Rishabh Gupta
New Delhi Published on: March 04, 2020 16:00 IST
tokyo olympics, olympics 2020, olympics 2020, coronavirus, olympics coronavirus, coronavirus olympic
Image Source : AP

With each passing day, the concerns over Tokyo Olympics increase due to the deadly outbreak of COVID-19. 

The outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 virus has led to the postponement, and even a cancellation of various sporting events around the world. Indian sports have also been affected significantly, as a result, with India U-16 football team’s tour to Tajikistan becoming the most recent event to be cancelled amid the deadly outbreak on Tuesday. The Asian Wrestling Qualifiers for the 2020 Olympics in Kazakhstan, where a 14-member Indian squad was scheduled to participate, have also been postponed ‘indefinitely’.

While China is the epicentre of the outbreak, many neighbouring countries – including Japan, are currently facing the deadly crisis. Justifiably, the outbreak has also put the Tokyo Olympics at risk. The premier sporting event is to take place between July 24 to August 9 later this year, but the spread of the virus has put significant doubts on the tournament following the schedule. 

There have been number of statements made by the members, as well as the former members of the International Olympic Committee which put further uncertainty on the Olympics this year.

Initial concerns

The concerns over the possibility of coronavirus affecting Olympics began in the first week of February, when Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe acknowledged the outbreak of the deadly disease. On February 3, PM Abe talked about the coronavirus scare, stating that Japan will work with ‘WHO and other international organizations’ to ensure Olympics take place smoothly. 

“We will respond appropriately, while closely cooperating with the World Health Organization and other international organizations so that we can proceed with the preparations without letting it affect the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics,” Abe had said.

India Tv - shinzo abe

Image Source : GETTY IMAGES

Japan PM Shinzo Abe.

Two days later, however, Tokyo Olympics CEO issued a rather worrying statement, hinting that the spread of coronavirus could hamper the scheduling. “I am seriously worried that the spread of the infectious disease could throw cold water on the momentum toward the games," Muto said, speaking in Japanese. “I hope that it will be stamped out as soon as possible.”

During this time, close to 490 people were confirmed dead in Mainland China due to the outbreak. The International Olympic Committee, however, reiterated that there were no plans to postpone the event. “We have full confidence that the relevant authorities, in particular here in Japan and the World Health Organization, will take all the necessary measures to address the situation,” Craig Spence, a spokesman for the Paralympic committee, had said.

Events being cancelled

In the coming weeks, more and more sporting events were either being cancelled or postponed indefinitely. A majority of events were scheduled to take place in China and a major part of south-east Asia. India women’s hockey team’s tour to China, which was scheduled for March, was cancelled entirely. The Asian Champions League matches were also being moved to April/May amid the spread of coronavirus.

The outbreak also affected participation of countries affected by the disease. Chinese wrestlers were denied visas for the Asian Wrestling Championships, which took place in India in February. China and Hong Kong also withdrew from badminton’s Asian Team Championships, and China’s matches in the Pro-Hockey League were also postponed indefinitely.

“You’re probably looking at a cancellation”

While talks of cancellation didn’t go mainstream during this time, IOC’s longest serving-member Dick Pound first rang the warning bells on Tokyo Olympics on February 25. Pound, a former Canadian swimming champion who has been on the IOC since 1978 estimated that there was 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. 

“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."

If the IOC decides the games cannot go forward as scheduled in Tokyo, “you're probably looking at a cancellation," Pound had said.

India Tv - ioc

Image Source : GETTY IMAGES

The IOC has reiterated that the Games will go as per the schedule.

However, immediately after Dick Pound’s concerning statement over the fate of Tokyo Olympics, an IOC spokesperson followed with an e-mail attempting to reassure that the organizers are working with the IOC and other organizations towards a successful Games.

“Dick Pound explains very well that the IOC continues to work towards a successful 2020 Olympic Games beginning at the end of July. The IOC has just reiterated that preparations for the Tokyo Olympic Games continue as planned,” the spokesperson had said.

“Countermeasures against infectious diseases constitute an important part of Tokyo 2020's plans to host a safe and secure Games. Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with all relevant organizations which carefully monitor any incidence of infectious diseases and will review any countermeasures that may be necessary with all relevant organizations,” the spokesperson further noted.

What next?

Test events: There are 18 remaining test events for the Tokyo Olympics. Many are small and involve only Japanese athletes, which would give a chance for organizers to test venues and logistics. Two in the next several weeks are planned to have non-Japanese attending: Paralympic wheelchair rugby on March 12-15, and gymnastics meet on April 4-6. They'll be watched to see if non-Japanese athletes compete.

Olympic qualifiers: Officials announced on Monday that an Olympic baseball qualifying event was postponed from April to June. It will be held in Taiwan as scheduled, but on June 17-21 instead of April 1-5. 

Olympic qualifiers have been moved from China. Bach said that many Chinese teams and athletes are out of China and training elsewhere: the table tennis team is in Qatar, the women's basketball team is in Croatia, and wrestlers are in Serbia.

According to Associated Press, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto is holding a teleconference on Wednesday with the IOC executive board in Switzerland.

There could be changes to the torch relay, which is set to open on March 26 in Fukushima prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. It might face crowd limits the way Sunday's Tokyo Marathon did. Preseason baseball games are being played in empty stadiums, Japan’s top-tier football league, the J-League has suspended play, and a large Sumo event will be held without fans. Training for Tokyo's 80,000 unpaid volunteers has also been postponed until at least May.

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