As much of the world shuts down, sheltering in place to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Olympic leaders said Tuesday their insistence on pushing ahead with the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo has nothing to do with money.
The International Olympic Committee has received billions of dollars from broadcasters and corporate sponsors wanting to be part of the massive sporting event. Organizers in Japan have spent billions on venue construction and other preparations.
“The IOC’s decision will not be determined by financial interests,” the committee said in a lengthy communique, adding that it is protected by “risk management policies and insurance.”
Tokyo 2020 organizers echoed this sentiment in announcing the torch relay — sponsored by a large soft-drink company, an auto manufacturer and other corporations — will begin as planned next week.
“We have not talked about the topic with sponsor partners and our partners have not approached us about the topic, either,” said Chief Executive Toshiro Muto, according to the Associated Press.
The IOC’s official communique emerged Tuesday from a new round of teleconferences with international federations that govern each sport.
While acknowledging the world is facing “an unprecedented situation,” the committee said, “there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counterproductive.”
There have been almost 190,000 reported cases and 7,500 deaths related to the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, worldwide. In Japan, the most recent statistics were 833 cases and 28 deaths.
The situation on Tuesday prompted the Diamond League to call off three international track meets this spring and UEFA to postpone its European soccer championship until next year.
“Cooperation, mutual respect and understanding must be the guiding principles for all decision makers to have in mind at this crucial moment in time,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said.
In Tokyo, a top official with the Japanese Olympic Committee reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus. Muto of the organizing committee was asked about the potential for large numbers of fans gathering to watch the torch relay, which is scheduled to begin March 26 in the northern prefecture of Fukushima.
“We’d like to ask people who are feeling unwell to refrain from being on the roadside,” the organizer said. “We would also like to ask people to avoid crowds with cheering along the road.”
“In the event of overcrowding,” he added, “we may have to change the way we carry out the relay.”
Determining which athletes get to participate this summer might be the biggest challenge at this point, with numerous qualifying events around the world canceled or postponed. The IOC said 57% of Olympic spots have been filled.
Selecting the rest might require a sport-by-sport adaptation, based on rankings and previous results.
“For the remaining 43% of places, the IOC will work with the [international federations] to make any necessary and practical adaptations to their respective qualification systems for Tokyo 2020,” the communique said.
Olympic leaders expressed their hope the outbreak will subside by the start of the Games, saying: “The IOC has confidence that the many measures being taken by many authorities around the world will help contain the situation of the COVID-19 virus.”