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The 2020 Summer Olympics is scheduled to start July 24

By Gabrielle Chung
February 25, 2020 07:23 PM
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Tokyo 2020 Olympic Venue
Credit: Matt Roberts/Getty Images

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo may be called off should the number of coronavirus cases around the world continue to rise, according to a senior member of the International Olympic Committee.

While the sporting event is currently scheduled to start July 24, organizers have started to worry about the fate of the Games if the coronavirus outbreak cannot be contained by its opening date, Dick Pound — a former Canadian swimming champion who has been on the IOC since 1978 — told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

The long-serving committee member said officials will likely cancel the Games — rather than to postpone or move it — if the epidemic continues to spread by late May.

“This is the new war and you have to face it. 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?'” he said.

“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” he continued. “A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels, The media folks will be in there building their studios.”

There have only been five Olympics canceled in modern history — all of which were abandoned due to the onset of a world war. The last time the Games were called off was during World War II.

Pound said other alternatives — such as moving the Olympics to another location or dispersing events throughout different cities across the globe — is also not feasible.

“You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics,” he said. “There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, `We’ll do it in October.’”

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The IOC is working with the World Health Organization to determine if the 2020 Summer Olympics should proceed as scheduled, though it is currently too early to make a call, Pound said.

For now, he encouraged athletes to keep training as if the Games are happening.

“As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo,” Pound said. “All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.”

Should the Olympics be canceled, organizations that depend on revenue from the Olympics for income — including the IOC itself — will draw from an emergency insurance fund of $1 billion that the committee has been building up.

“It’s not an insurable risk, and it’s not one that can be attributed to one or the other of the parties,” Pound said. “So everybody takes their lumps. There would be a lack of revenue on the Olympic movement side.”

As of Feb. 25, there have been 80,134 reported cases of coronavirus worldwide, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Within those cases, 77,658 were reported from mainland China.