JAPANESE Olympic marathon champion Mizuki Noguch (C) passes the torch of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to European Commissioner following the flame lighting ceremony at the closed Ancient Olympia site in southern Greece on Thursday.—AP
JAPANESE Olympic marathon champion Mizuki Noguch (C) passes the torch of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to European Commissioner following the flame lighting ceremony at the closed Ancient Olympia site in southern Greece on Thursday.—AP

TOKYO: Cancelling the 2020 Olympics is “unthinkable” although the classification of the coronavirus as a pandemic will likely have some impact on the Games, the Tokyo city governor said on Thursday.

“It can’t be said that the announcement of a pandemic would have no impact... But I think cancellation is unthinkable,” Yuriko Koike told reporters.

Doubts are increasingly being raised over whether the Olympics can be held as scheduled from July 24 to August 9.

Organisers have insisted the Games will go ahead as planned and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), with whom the final decision rests, has said there has not yet been any talk of cancellation or postponement.

The IOC has said it will coordinate closely with the World Health Organization, which has now officially classified the outbreak as a pandemic.

Koike vowed to work with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organisers on what she described as a “global issue”, promising to devote her “utmost efforts” to holding the Games.

But coronavirus has already taken a huge toll on sport across the globe with a long list of competitions affected.

Coronavirus has already had some impact on the Games, as the traditional flame-lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece, is expected to be held without spectators after dozens tested positive for the virus nearby.

The torch is due to arrive in Japan on March 20 but the arrival ceremony has also been downscaled, with some 200 children originally scheduled to attend now expected to miss it.

Olympic qualifying tournaments in several different sports have also been cancelled, postponed or moved to different countries.

Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori said on Wednesday that the Games would go ahead as scheduled although he admitted organisers are “concerned” about the virus, which has infected 124,000 people with 4,500 deaths.

Mori made the comments after a member of the organisers’ executive board sounded the alarm, warning postponing the Games for two years might be the best option under the circumstances.

But Mori dismissed that option, as did Japanese Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto, who told a parliament committee that postponing or cancelling the Games was “inconceivable”.

Executive board member Haruyuki Takahashi had told Japanese broadcaster TBS late on Wednesday that any decision to delay the Olympics should be made before May.

Takahashi’s comments came just hours after Mori publicly chided him for remarks he first made to the Wall Street Journal that a delay of one or two years would be the most reasonable option if the coronavirus derailed the Games.

Speaking to TBS after Mori’s news conference, Takahashi said: “If you think about the athletes, May would seem too late to make a decision on any delay. We need to think about taking the first step, before the IOC.”

He added that the organising committee would probably discuss postponement at its next meeting later this month.

Takahashi also told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun daily it would be ideal to hold the Olympics as planned but “there has to be an alternative plan”.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2020

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