Tokyo Olympics 2020: After WHO labels coronavirus as a pandemic, assessing fate of Summer Games

The IOC and local organizers say the Tokyo Summer Games will open as planned in four-and-a-half months. An irrevocable decision probably needs to be made by the end of May or early June giving 11,000 Olympic athletes time to plan, TV space to set up, and sponsors enough notice to activate advertising programs.

The Associated Press March 12, 2020 19:36:16 IST
Tokyo Olympics 2020: After WHO labels coronavirus as a pandemic, assessing fate of Summer Games
  • Several test events since the end of February have been postponed or downsized. The next big one to watch is a gymnastics test set for 4-6 April.

  • The IOC and local organizers say the games will open as planned in four-and-a-half months.

  • The IOC has a budget reserve of almost $2 billion to carry it to the next Olympics — the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing — in case of cancellation.

Tokyo: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike spoke Thursday after the World Health Organization labeled the spreading virus a “pandemic," a decision almost certain to affect the Tokyo Olympics.

“I can't say there won't be an impact,” she said. “But I believe cancellation is impossible.”

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Representational photo. AP

The reality for Koike and Japanese organizers is that any decision to cancel or proceed with the 24 July opening rests ultimately with the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee.

Last year, Koike vehemently opposed moving the Olympic marathon out of Tokyo to Sapporo. IOC President Thomas Bach supported the move, and he won.

The IOC and local organizers say the games will open as planned in four-and-a-half months. An irrevocable decision probably needs to be made by the end of May or early June giving 11,000 Olympic athletes time to plan, TV space to set up, and sponsors enough notice to activate advertising programs.

Of course, the WHO will be consulted. So will international broadcasters and sponsors — and hundreds of lawyers.

The Host City Contract, signed between the IOC and the city of Tokyo and the Japanese Olympic Committee, gives the IOC leverage. It has the right to terminate because of “a state of war, civil disorder, boycott ... or if the IOC has reasonable grounds to believe, in its sole discretion, that the safety of participants in the games would be seriously threatened or jeopardized for any reason whatsoever.”

An Irish bookmaker on Thursday was showing odds favoring a cancellation: 1-3 the games will not open as scheduled, and 2-1 they will.

“There is no plan now to change our plans," Tokyo organizing committee President Yoshiro Mori said Wednesday. “This is an important time for the organizing committee to stay firm. I realize these are complex problems. But that should not stop everything.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the WHO, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.

Q: Is the torch relay going ahead?

A: Yes, though plans change almost daily.

The torch if to arrive on a flight from Greece on 20 March at a military airbase in northern Japan. The welcome ceremony has been downsized but is still to include a military band and a flyover by Japanese forces. About 140 children who were to perform have been withdrawn. The flame will be displayed in each of the three northern prefectures devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and meltdown of three nuclear reactors.

The relay starts officially on 26 March in Fukushima prefecture — 250 kilometers, or 150 mile northeast of Tokyo. Organizers have put off announcing any change in the scope of the relay until a government science panel meets on 19 March to access conditions. If plans don't change, IOC President Thomas Bach it to be in Hiroshima when the torch circulates there on 18-19 May.

Q: Are the test events happening?

A: Several test events since the end of February have been postponed or downsized. The next big one to watch is a gymnastics test set for 4-6 April. The meet is being coordinated by FIG, the governing body of world gymnastics. Non-Japanese athletes are supposed to attend. The final test ends on 6 May.

The biggest obstacle if the games go ahead might be figuring out who is qualified. Many qualifying events have been postponed or moved, which is sure to be stressful for athletes. All 33 Olympic sports have their own qualifying procedures.

Q: How much money is at stake?

A: Tokyo is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the games. But a national government audit board says it's at least twice that. Perhaps as much as $28 billion. Of all the money spent, $5.6 billion is privately financed and represented in the local organizing committee's operating budget. The rest if public money from the city of Tokyo, other prefectures, and the national government.

The IOC has a budget reserve of almost $2 billion to carry it to the next Olympics — the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing — in case of cancellation. The IOC also has an insurance policy on cancellation. It paid $14 million for the policy four years ago in Rio de Janeiro.

The IOC, a not-for-profit organization, had income of $5.7 billion in the last four-year Olympic cycle. Television broadcast rights represent 73% of the IOC's income, and another 18% is from major sponsors.

US broadcaster NBC paid $4.38 billion for four Olympics — 2014 through 2020 — and $7.75 billion for the next six Olympics — 2022 through 2032. This is at least half of the IOC's broadcast income.

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