The Tokyo Olympics, set to start in July, looked to be in doubt as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated postponement may be unavoidable due to the coronavirus and Canada said it won’t send its athletes if the games go ahead as planned.
The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee “urgently” called on the International Olympic Committee and other organizers to postpone the event by a year, and the Australian Olympic Committee, anticipating that the games will be postponed, said Monday its athletes should prepare for the event to be held next year.
Other major sporting federations and political leaders have also called on the IOC and Japanese organizers to postpone the games, with the pandemic already wrecking training for athletes and showing no signs of abating by July.
“While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes,” the Canadian committees said, adding it’s not safe for its athletes and runs counter to public health advice for Canadians. “We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport.”
Abe had resisted directly mentioning a postponement for the Olympics but had a change in tone in parliament on Monday, suggesting that Japan was ready to bow to pressure. If it’s not possible to hold the full event without safety concerns “a decision will have to be made to postpone it,” he said.
He added that cancellation was not an option and said he wanted a decision to be made as soon as possible on whether to delay the Tokyo Olympics. His comments came a day after the IOC said it would decide within four weeks how to handle the event amid the deadly outbreak, with a delay being an option.
“I want athletes from all countries to be able to take part having prepared fully and to hold a safe Olympics without worries,” Abe said in response to a question in parliament. “I don’t want to reduce the size of the event and I want spectators to share in the excitement,” he added.
The IOC’s Sunday meeting came amid a growing chorus of people saying that the coronavirus was putting athletes in a compromising position, and making qualifying events impossible to hold. The body said it was “confident that it will have finalized these discussions within the next four weeks.”
As of Monday, confirmed cases topped 329,000 and deaths were near 14,500, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Opinion polls have shown the Japanese public is increasingly in favor of putting off the event, for which the country has been preparing since 2013. A survey by Asahi News Network published Monday found that 74% thought it should be postponed, while a separate poll by the Yomiuri newspaper found 69% wanted a delay.
The Financial Times reported Sunday that the likely new date was the summer of 2021, though other options were also under discussion, citing people familiar with the discussions.
In its statement, the IOC laid out some of the logistical hurdles associated with delaying the Olympics. They include millions of hotel nights that were booked this year and the possibility that some of the venues might not be available in 2021 or 2022.
Tokyo has been preparing for the games for years, spending more than $26 billion to ready the city, according to some estimates. With about 600,000 foreign visitors and more than 11,000 athletes expected to attend, the Olympics were supposed to reinvigorate the economy, which saw a 6.3% contraction in the last three months of 2019.
If the Olympics don’t happen, the Japanese economy could face some $60 billion in losses tied directly to the event and indirectly from the lingering effect on tourism, domestic consumption, exports and capital investment, according to a March estimate from Goldman Sachs.