Olympic organisers remain resolute amid virus threat
Tokyo Olympic organisers and the Japanese government went on the offensive Wednesday after a senior IOC member said the 2020 Games were being threatened by the spread of a viral outbreak, with their fate probably decided in the next three months.
Tokyo organising committee CEO Toshiro Muto abruptly called a news conference late Wednesday afternoon to address comments from former International Olympic Committee vice-president Dick Pound in an interview with The Associated Press.
“Our basic thoughts are that we will go ahead with the Olympic and Paralympic Games as scheduled,” Muto said, speaking in Japanese. “For the time being, the situation of the coronavirus infection is, admittedly, difficult to predict, but we will take measures such that we’ll have a safe Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
The viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700 globally. China has reported 2,715 deaths among 78,064 cases on the mainland. Five deaths in Japan have been attributed to the virus.
Pound has been a member of the IOC since 1978, serving two terms as vice-president, and was the founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency. He has served 13 years longer than IOC president Thomas Bach. He also represented Canada as a swimmer at the Olympics.
“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Pound told the AP in a telephone interview from his home in Montreal. “By and large you’re looking at a cancellation. This is the new war, and you have to face it. In and around there folks are going to have to say: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident of going to Tokyo or not’?”
Pound was speaking as a rank-and-file member and not part of the IOC’s present leadership, but his opinions are often sought in IOC circles.
“That the end of May is the time limit, we have never thought of this or heard of such a comment,” Muto said. “So when we asked about this we received a response saying that is not the position of the IOC.”
The IOC has repeatedly said the Tokyo Games will go ahead and has said it is following the advice of the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency.
Japanese virologist Dr Hitoshi Oshitani, who formerly worked for the WHO, said last week he could not forecast what the situation would be in five months.
The Olympics open on July 24 with 11,000 athletes, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 25 with 4,400 athletes.