Coronavirus isn’t slowing Tokyo Games preparations, Olympics leader tells Japan
On the same day Japanese officials recommended all schools be closed in hopes of limiting the coronavirus outbreak, the head of the International Olympic Committee said the upcoming Summer Games in Tokyo will proceed as planned.
During a conference call with Japanese reporters, IOC President Thomas Bach also urged athletes from around the world to “go ahead full-steam” with their training.
“The official position of the IOC is that we are fully committed to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo,” he said, adding “they are on schedule.”
The virus, named COVID-19, originated in China but has now infected more than 80,000 people internationally. There have been 2,700 reported deaths since its discovery in late December.
Japan has reported 910 cases — 705 of those confined to a cruise ship — and eight deaths. On Thursday, officials recommended that all elementary, middle and high schools close until late March, a move that would impact 34,800 campuses and 12.8 million students.
Sun Yang’s hopes of competing for China at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are shattered after he is handed an eight-year ban by anti-doping officials.
“The coming week or two is an extremely important time,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “This is to prioritize the health and safety of the children and take precautions to avoid the risk of possible large-scale infections.”
Earlier in the week, veteran IOC member Dick Pound of Canada told the Associated Press that Olympic leaders have until late May to decide on proceeding with the Tokyo Games. If action were required, he said, the most likely result would be cancellation, as opposed to postponement or relocation.
Some health officials have expressed concerns about holding a mass public gathering on the scale of the Olympics, which are scheduled to begin July 24 and run through early August. Others have said it is too soon to make any pronouncements.
Bach echoed the latter sentiment in his call to Japanese media.
“It is about now,” he said, “not about speculation.”
In Japan, exhibition games will no longer be open to fans, and teams will play in empty ballparks because of coronavirus transmission fears.
COVID-19 has already impacted the sports world, with the relocation and cancellation of major events, including track meets and car races. Bach cited examples of countries — especially in Asia — adjusting their Olympic preparations by moving competitions or training to alternate sites.
The IOC leader talked about working in conjunction with the World Health Organization and praised Japan’s efforts to minimize the outbreak.
“This determination by Japan, and this great solidarity by the sports movement, and beyond the sports movement, puts us in a position again to say we are continuing our preparations,” he said.
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