The International Olympic Committee has three months before it must decide on whether to cancel the 2020 Summer Games because of the coronavirus outbreak, an influential committee member said today.
Dick Pound, a Canadian IOC member for more than four decades, told the Associated Press that a final determination could probably wait until late May, two months before the scheduled July 24 Opening Ceremony.
Pound acknowledged that if the virus forces a change, cancellation — rather than postponement or relocation — would be the most likely outcome.
“This is the new war and you have to face it,” he said. “In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?’ “
The IOC and local organizers have said they are consulting with the World Health Organization and are confident about moving forward with the Games.
But COVID-19 continues to spread through China, where updated totals include more than 77,000 reported cases and 2,600 deaths. The virus has shown up in South Korea, the Middle East and Europe.
The impact has been less severe in Japan, with hundreds of cases and four deaths.
The Olympics are no stranger to this sort of crisis in the months leading up to the competition.
The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi were shadowed by threats of terrorist attacks from Chechen rebels. In 2016, Rio de Janeiro and the rest of Brazil was dealing with the Zika virus.
This time around, some health officials have expressed concern about holding large public gatherings in summer, but others have insisted it is much too early to make any such pronouncements.
Earlier this month, a London mayoral candidate angered Japanese officials by suggesting his city, which hosted the Summer Games in 2012, could serve as a last-minute replacement.
Pound said that relocating the Olympics would probably be impossible at this point. He added that any sort of postponement would be difficult because of conflicts with other sporting and television events.
“As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo,” he said, referring to athletes training for the Games. “All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual.”