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IOC won’t speculate on potential coronavirus threat to Olympic Games in 2021

Would the Summer Olympics be canceled if the COVID-19 pandemic is not brought under control by the summer of 2021?
Could the Summer Olympics be canceled altogether if the COVID-19 pandemic is not brought under control by the summer of 2021?
(Philip Fong / AFP via Getty Images)

With the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo postponed until next year, it seems Olympic leaders would rather not think about the elephant in the room.

If the coronavirus outbreak stretches into next winter — or subsides and then returns — might the Games be canceled?

“Let’s not speculate,” Christophe Dubi, an International Olympic Committee executive, told reporters during a Thursday teleconference, adding that “hopefully we can see the flattening of the curve in Europe and in other continents to follow.”

In the meantime, the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee have vowed to continue discussions with public health officials while tackling what Dubi called an “unprecedented” job in shifting to 2021.

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A joint task force will scrutinize expenses in hopes of eliminating some of the potentially massive costs associated with postponement. Various estimates have placed the total at between $2.7 billion and $6 billion.

“I’ve read numbers, but these are really speculations because I can guarantee the work is really ongoing and it’s tens of thousands of line items of a budget that need to be reviewed,” Dubi said.

This year’s Wimbledon has been canceled, wiping out chances for tennis’ Big Three men to hold off the young while a host of story lines are on hold for women.

It remains to be seen how much, if any, of the burden the IOC will shoulder. Negotiations become trickier with most of the committee’s staff working remotely from Europe because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

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Among other issues that need to be addressed, task force members are reviewing Tokyo’s dozens of sports venues, which include temporary sites, an athletes village that will be sold off as condominiums and a convention center that might be booked with other events when the Games finally come around.

The IOC also has been in contact with the international federations that govern each sport, including some that face economic hardship after canceling major competitions that would have generated broadcast and ticket revenue.

Olympic leaders were asked if they will provide an advance on money traditionally paid to the federations.

Returning to a familiar theme, IOC sports director Kit McConnell said: “It’s too early for us to speculate. We just acknowledge the challenge that a lot of them are having.”


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