International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound confirms Olympics won’t go ahead in July due to coronavirus pandemic

VideoAustralian Olympic Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman talks about the delay to the Tokyo Olympics

The Tokyo Olympics are headed toward the first postponement since the modern games began in the 19th century, as national teams arrange to pull out due to the coronavirus.

International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound added to the drumbeat on Monday, telling USA Today that the decision to push back the July-August event has already been made. But the committee hasn’t formally announced a delay yet.

IOC committee member Dick Pound.
Camera IconIOC committee member Dick Pound. Credit: SVEN HOPPE/EPA

“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound said in an interview with the newspaper. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament on Monday that the Olympics will have to be postponed if safety can’t be guaranteed for spectators and athletes due to the pandemic.

He added that cancellation was not an option, and that he wanted an IOC decision to be made as soon as possible.

The Tokyo 2020 committee echoed the tone, with President Yoshiro Mori saying organizers will discuss different scenarios for the games within four weeks, ruling out cancellation.

The aim is to hold the event this year, even with any delay, he said. Abe added he may have to communicate his own thoughts directly to IOC President Thomas Bach, adding the world wasn’t ready to hold an Olympics right now.

If the Olympics are called off, it would be the biggest event to be halted by the virus, which has caused more than 375,000 confirmed cases, led to a plunge in global markets and slammed the brakes on international travel.

The last time an Olympics was cancelled was in 1944 due to World War II, and the games have never been delayed by as long as a year under the auspices of the IOC, which was established in 1894. The 1940 games were initially postponed, but then cancelled.

Several nations are calling for the Olympics to be pushed back until at least 2021.

While that would cause logistical nightmares, it would be far less painful than cancellation for the host, sponsors, broadcasters and others that have tens of billions of dollars invested in the international sports event. Japan’s Sankei newspaper said organizers were now looking at a delay of a year or less, to avoid any clash with the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

Hygiene workers in a protective gear disinfect an office in western Japan.
Camera IconHygiene workers in a protective gear disinfect an office in western Japan. Credit: Daisuke Urakami/AP

If the Olympics don’t happen, the Japanese economy could face some $60 billion in losses tied directly to the event and indirectly from the lingering effect on tourism, domestic consumption, exports and capital investment, according to a March estimate from Goldman Sachs. A cancelled or postponed Olympics would likely result in Japan’s economy shrinking for the longest stretch since the global financial crisis, according to some economists.

Canadian Halt

The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee have “urgently” called on the IOC and other organizers to postpone the event by a year.

“While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes,” they said. “We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport.”

Other major sporting federations and political leaders have also called on the IOC and Japanese organizers to postpone the games, with the pandemic already wrecking training for athletes and showing no signs of abating by July.

The Australian Olympic Committee, anticipating that the games will be postponed, on Monday said its athletes should prepare for the event to be held next year.

A formal decision by the IOC may take weeks because of the time it takes to notify its multitude of stakeholders.

“I want athletes from all countries to be able to take part having prepared fully and to hold a safe Olympics without worries,” Abe said. “I don’t want to reduce the size of the event and I want spectators to share in the excitement,” he added.

Opinion polls show the Japanese public is increasingly in favor of putting off the event, for which the country has been preparing since 2013. A survey by Asahi News Network published Monday found that 74 per cent thought it should be postponed, while a separate poll by the Yomiuri newspaper found 69 per cent wanted a delay.

Despite concerns about postponement, the Olympic flame touched down in Japan last week and Abe was set to attend the start of the torch relay on Thursday.

Tokyo 2021?

The IOC’s Sunday meeting came amid a growing chorus of people saying that the coronavirus was making qualifying events impossible to hold. The body said it was "confident that it will have finalized these discussions within the next four weeks."

The Financial Times reported Sunday that the likely new date was the summer of 2021, though other options were also under discussion, citing people familiar with the discussions.

In its statement, the IOC laid out some of the logistical hurdles associated with delaying the Olympics. They include millions of hotel nights that were booked this year and the possibility that some of the venues might not be available in 2021 or 2022.

Japan has spent more than $26 billion to ready Tokyo for the games, according to some estimates, with about 600,000 foreign visitors and more than 11,000 athletes expected to attend.

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