- IOC commits to staging Olympics from 24 July to 9 August
- Japan organisers had suggested a delay until the end of 2020
Sachin Nakrani – The Guardian
A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past the Olympic rings in front of the Japan Olympics Museum in Tokyo. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters
The International Olympic Committee has sought to play down fears of Tokyo 2020 being delayed because of the coronavirus outbreak by insisting the Games will go ahead as scheduled.
Speaking in Lausanne on Tuesday, Thomas Bach, the IOC president, insisted that athletes should continue their Olympic preparations “with great confidence”.
Bach’s address followed a meeting of the organisation’s executive board in which it was decided that the IOC remains committed to holding the Olympics between 24 July and 9 August, something that had been placed in doubt following the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. There are 90,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths confirmed globally.
Speculation of a delay had mounted further when Japan’s Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, had said the Games could be moved to the end of the year because of coronavirus while speaking in the national parliament on Tuesday morning, leading to the IOC releasing a statement insisting it was expected to proceed according to schedule.
“The International Olympic Committee executive board today expressed its full commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, taking place from 24 July to 9 August 2020,” read a statement. “The IOC EB heard a report on all the measures taken so far to address the coronavirus situation, which was followed by a comprehensive discussion. A joint task force had already been created in mid-February, involving the IOC, Tokyo 2020, the host city of Tokyo, the government of Japan and the World Health Organization.
“The IOC will continue to follow the advice of WHO, as the leading United Nations agency on this topic.”
Bach largely reiterated that message when he spoke later but did not say during a statement that lasted more than two minutes that the Games would start on 24 July. This would suggest Bach was factoring in some leeway just in case the spread of coronavirus reaches such an extent that a delay to the Olympics becomes unavoidable.
“Following a very comprehensive discussion in the executive board, the IOC remains fully committed to the success of the Olympic Games,” said Bach. “I would like to encourage all the athletes to continue with their preparations for the Olympic Games with great confidence and with full steam.”
In a response to a question in Japan’s parliament, Hashimoto had insisted everything was being done to “ensure the Games go ahead as planned”, but that the organising committee’s agreement with the IOC did allow for the event to be moved. “The contract calls for the Games to be held within 2020. That could be interpreted as allowing a postponement,” she said.
Meanwhile the Japan Para Wheelchair Rugby Championship, scheduled to take place on 12-15 March and a test event for the Paralympic Games, has been cancelled because of the spread of coronavirus. “Tokyo 2020 nevertheless will carry out the wheelchair rugby test event in some form in April, after ensuring a safe and secure environment,” read a statement from Tokyo 2020’s organising committee.
A number of high-profile sporting events have already been cancelled or postponed as a result of coronavirus, including the 2020 World Indoor Athletics Championships and the Chinese Grand Prix, while the final two stages of cycling’s UAE Tour were also cancelled last week.
The four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome and the veteran sprinter Mark Cavendish were among the riders tested for the virus having also been confined to their rooms at their Abu Dhabi hotel as part of a process that led to 167 people at the event being put into quarantine – all of whom have since returned negative tests.
However, the French teams Cofidis and Groupama-FDJ, the UAE team and Russian Gazprom team remain under quarantine, leading to Thierry Vittu, the Cofidis president, accusing the UCI, the cycling world governing body, of holding riders “against their will” and treating them like “plague victims”.
Vittu said: “This situation is not normal. We’re being held against our will in a place we didn’t choose and for an unknown length of time. We are treated like plague victims; our rooms have not been made since we arrived five days ago.”
In response, the UCI released a statement. It read: “We’ve directly contacted government authorities and hopefully riders and staff will be able to leave the country today.”