While it’s been mentioned, athletes should stay focused on their plans for the Tokyo Olympics despite the coronavirus panic.
A remark about a timeline for cancellation of the Tokyo Olympic Games has gone viral while a dreaded disease spread in Japan this week.
As a preventive measure to halt its increase, sport and cultural events in the Games’ host country should be cancelled or curtailed for two weeks, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared yesterday, after two more COVID-19 coronavirus deaths in his country increased fears of how the contagion could affect the Games.
The longest-serving International Olympic Committee member, Dick Pound, raised the spectre of scrapping this summer’s Games during an interview with the Associated Press, when he suggested that a decision about whether the Olympics can be held may have to be made two months or so before the Games, which start July 24.
“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.
If the IOC decides the games cannot go forward as scheduled in Tokyo, “you’re probably looking at a cancellation,” he said.
The complexity of presenting the Games would make it unlikely they could be postponed, moved or cancelled, he maintained.
“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.'”
Breaking up the Games by sending events to different places on the globe wouldn’t be the Olympics, just a series of world championships, he contended.
However, at this point, Pound emphasized to athletes and sports federations, “As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo. 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.”
Lucia Montanarella, head of Olympic Games Media Operations, said, “From our perspective, there is no plan B and the planning for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is going ahead as normal.”
Amid the scary headlines, Will Connell, the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s director of sport, believes the situation needs to be considered in context. “I think Dick Pound’s comments are being taken the wrong way. I take his comments as alluding to the window when the Games can or would need to be cancelled should that decision need to be made, and not that there is a significant possibility they will be cancelled. I am sure the IOC (International Olympic Committee) are studying in detail the various timelines and when decisions will need to be made.”
He added, “Every Games has its issues…Zika in 2016 (Rio de Janeiro), security in 2012 (London). Of course there are concerns, but there is nothing we can do at the moment and there are no significant competitions outside North America/Europe that are relevant to Olympic/Paralympic preparation.
“Therefore, the athletes, coaches and team leadership need to be, and I believe are, totally focused on the existing Games preparation plans.
“Of course,” Connell continued, “we will keep a very close eye on the WHO (World Health Organization) and U.S. government advice and will react accordingly.
“The coronavirus is a major global issue and it is a worry for all, but we will remain focused on what we are doing and what we have planned until advice requires us to change plans and the we will react accordingly.”
In response to a question about the situation, the media office of the International Olympic Committee responded, “Dick Pound explains very well that the IOC continues to work towards successful Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 beginning at the end of July.”
The office offered “the only official IOC position,” stating “The preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 continue as planned. Countermeasures against infectious diseases constitute an important part of Tokyo 2020’s plans to host a safe and secure Games.
“Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with all relevant organisations which carefully monitor any incidence of infectious diseases and will review any countermeasures that may be necessary with all relevant organisations. In addition, the IOC is in contact with the World Health Organization, as well as its own medical experts. We have full confidence that the relevant authorities, in particular in Japan and China, will take all the necessary measures to address the situation.”
Asked if it has a Plan B in case of Olympic cancellation, the FEI (International Equestrian Federation) responded that it “is following the matter closely and is in regular contact with the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The IOC is collaborating directly with the World Health Organisation and IOC Medical and Scientific Commission Games Group public health experts, as well as the relevant sport and government authorities. In addition, the FEI has issued the following advisory regarding the Coronavirus which can be found here.”
The FEI further noted that “the IOC has advised us that countermeasures against infectious diseases constitute an important part of Tokyo 2020’s plans to host a safe and secure Games. Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with all relevant organisations which carefully monitor any incidence of infectious diseases and will review any countermeasures that may be necessary with all relevant organisations. In addition, the IOC is in contact with the World Health Organisation, as well as its own medical experts.”
Since its 1896 revival, the modern Olympics has been cancelled only three times; once during World War I and twice during World War II.
Covid-19, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year has spread rapidly, infecting about 80,000 people globally and killing more than 2,700, the majority in mainland China. Many sports events in China, among them the Hong Kong Masters show jumping competition, have been cancelled as a result of the disease.
The disease has migrated elsewhere, including Italy, where several major Italian dioceses have called off Ash Wednesday services and public masses as a result.
Meanwhile, Japan’s minister in charge of the Olympics sought to quell fears the event could be canceled.
“The IOC is preparing for the Tokyo games as scheduled,” Minister Seiko Hashimoto told his parliament, when asked about Pound’s comment. “We will continue our preparations so that the IOC can make sound decisions.”
Last week, Tokyo postponed training for Olympic volunteers, and on Wednesday, Toshiro Muto, chief executive of the organizing committee, said it would scale back the Olympic torch relay to limit spread of the virus.
Until March 15, Japan’s professional baseball organization will hold all matches without spectators. Japan’s professional soccer league has already called off all domestic games in the first half of March.
Pandemics always come to an end eventually. They can burn themselves out when they run out of victims, as more people develop immunities, receive vaccines or shield themselves from infection. When the number of possible victims dwindles, the disease can no longer sustain itself.
~ Nancy Jaffer