Tokyo Olympics 2020: With coronavirus epidemic showing no signs of slowing down, important questions answered

  • Three deaths have been reported in Japan with more than 700 cases, more than 600 from a cruise ship that was docked in Yokohama.

  • Globally, over 77,000 people have been infected by coronavirus in 29 countries, and more than 2,300 have died — almost all in China.

  • Local Games organisers and the International Olympics Committee have said repeatedly the games will not be cancelled or postponed.

Tokyo: The Tokyo Olympics open in five months on 24 July. The Paralympics open on 25 August. But the fast-spreading coronavirus from China is making Tokyo organisers very anxious. Three deaths have been reported in Japan with more than 700 cases, more than 600 from a cruise ship that was docked in Yokohama. Globally, more than 77,000 people have been infected in 29 countries, and more than 2,300 have died — almost all in China. China is the host for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

 Tokyo Olympics 2020: With coronavirus epidemic showing no signs of slowing down, important questions answered

File image of people wearing masks sitting in front of a countdown clock for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. AP Photo

Local organisers and the Switzerland-based International Olympics Committee have said repeatedly the games will not be cancelled or postponed.

Since the modern Olympics began in 1896, they have only be cancelled during wartime. And in 1980 and '84 they faced boycotts.

Tokyo held the 1964 Olympics and was to hold the Olympics in 1940, which were eventually called off by World War II and Japan's war with China.

The longer the outbreak continues, the more it could sew uncertainly. Both the Olympics and Paralympics have been besieged with unprecedented ticket demand.

Here's some questions and answers about the virus and its threat to the Olympics.

Q: Will the Tokyo Olympics be cancelled or postponed?

The IOC, local organisers, the Tokyo city government and everyone involved is saying “no.” That includes Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. However, a respected Japanese virologist said this week the games would have to be postponed or cancelled if they opened tomorrow.

“I'm not sure of the situation at the end of July,” Dr Hitoshi Oshitani said. He said it would be “difficult to have the Olympics (now).” Other scientists have said they cannot forecast what the situation will be in five months.

Q: Are other events linked to the Olympics being cancelled or postponed?

Yes. And the list is growing. Tokyo organisers announced very late on Friday night — near midnight Tokyo time — that training for 80,000 unpaid volunteers was being delayed until May or later. Some volunteers come from abroad. Organisers acknowledge they cannot run the games without them. Organisers this week also announced that a small test event in Tokyo between 28 February-1 March would be limited to only Japanese. The test is for Paralympic boccia and was to involve non-Japanese athletes.

Two upcoming test events — wheelchair rugby on 12-15 March and gymnastics on 4-6 April — are to have international fields. Tokyo spokesman Masa Takaya said this week he could not guarantee that non-Japanese would take part.

Dozens of sports events outside Japan are affected. Some Olympic qualifiers are being moved or postponed, which complicates life for athletes, sports federations, national Olympic bodies, and border officials who have to deal with health issues.

Q: Will the Olympics be moved to another country?

Shaun Bailey, a Conservative Party candidate for London mayor, made that suggestion this week. It sounded like a political stunt. Some in London also wanted the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics moved to the British capital because of the Zika virus. The games went ahead and the mosquito-borne virus subsided.

Tokyo Governor Yurkio Koike said it was “inappropriate” to make a serious issue like the virus a talking point for London's mayoral race. London held the Summer Games in 2012.

Q: What about the torch relay?

So far it is on. The relay starts on 26 March in Fukushima prefecture in northeastern Japan and will circulate around the country for several months. It will involve mostly Japanese carrying the torch, but certainly non-Japanese will be involved. Any change to planning would be a worrying sign.

Q: How much money is involved?

Local Japanese companies have paid over $3 billion for sponsorship deals to local organisers, a record amount that is at least twice any previous Olympics. Local organisers say they are spending about $13 billion to organise the Olympics, although a national audit report puts the cost at twice that much.

US television network NBC pays about $1 billion for the broadcast rights to the Olympics. The 24 July-9 August Tokyo Olympic slot is mostly determined by television. Moving the Olympics back a few months — when the weather is cooler in Tokyo — would seem impossible with the sports broadcast calendar filled with American football, college football, baseball, basketball, and ice hockey. The European football schedule is also packed beginning in fall.

Almost three-quarters of the income for the International Olympic Committee — $5.7 billion in a four-year cycle — is from broadcast rights.

Any change would cause massive disruptions to the 11,000 Olympic athletes and another 5,000 Paralympic athletes — and their staffs, families and coaches. Tokyo hotels are book solid during the Olympics — not to mention flights — with 7.8 million tickets available for the Olympics, and 2.3 million for the Paralympics.

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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2020 11:41:30 IST