Sports Other News 02 Mar 2020 Why can't the Olympi ...

Why can't the Olympics just be postponed? For one thing, it's the money, honey

Published Mar 2, 2020, 6:17 pm IST
Updated Mar 2, 2020, 6:17 pm IST
There are ad programmes, sponsorships, training schedules and hotel bookings to thing about
Japan Sumo Association officials meet at an extraordinary session and decide to have the Spring tournament behind closed doors, due to fears of the coronavirus. AFP photo
 Japan Sumo Association officials meet at an extraordinary session and decide to have the Spring tournament behind closed doors, due to fears of the coronavirus. AFP photo

Tokyo: The fast-spreading coronavirus from China has been reported in more than 60 countries and put the Tokyo Olympics at risk. The Games are to open on July 24 -- less than five months away. The Paralympics follow on August 25.

But International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, in an interview last week to Japanese media, said the ''IOC is fully committed to have the opening ceremony on July 24 in Tokyo.'' He declined to speculate about a postponement, cancellation, or any combination of those possibilities. Bach told the Japanese media: ''I'm not ready to add fuel to the flames of speculation there in any way.''


But others are. An Irish bookmaker last week began taking bets: the odds are 4/6 the opening ceremony will not go ahead as scheduled; and 11/10 that it will. In gambling terms, it means it's slightly above 50-50 that it will.

Senior IOC member Dick Pound last week suggested Tokyo and the IOC had roughly until the end of May to announce a decision. Pound, a former IOC vice-president, said there's no decision so far and stressed that talks were nearly constant with the World Health Organization.

He characterized the virus as the elephant in the room, likening the fight against it to ''the new war.''


''You just don't postpone something of the size and scale of the Olympics,'' Pound told the Associated Press. ''There are so many moving parts; so many countries, so many different seasons and competitive seasons, television seasons. You can't say: 'We'll do it in October.' It's a big, big, big decision and you just can't take it until you have all the reliable facts on which to base it.''

The virus has caused more than 3,000 deaths, the vast majority in China. Japan has reported 12 deaths with almost 1,000 cases.


What's next?

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto is holding a teleconference on Wednesday with the IOC executive board in Switzerland. The 14-member board along with Bach made the big decisions.

There could be changes to the torch relay, which is set to open March 26 in Fukushima prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. The event is heavily sponsored by Coca-Cola and Toyota. It might face crowd limits the way Sunday's Tokyo Marathon did. Preseason baseball games are being played in empty stadiums, soccer's J-League has suspended play, and a large Sumo event will be held without fans. Training for Tokyo's 80,000 unpaid volunteers has been postponed until at least May.


A month ago, Muto said he was ''seriously worried'' by the spread of the virus. He has become more cautious with his words since then.

Fate of qualifying events

Officials announced on Monday that an Olympic baseball qualifying event was postponed from April to June. It will be held in Taiwan, but on June 17-21 instead of April 1-5. The World Baseball Softball Conference said it was because of ''player, personnel and spectator health and safety measures against the spread of the coronavirus.''

Olympic qualifiers have been moved from China. Bach said that many Chinese teams and athletes are out of China and training elsewhere: the table tennis team is in Qatar, the women's basketball team is in Croatia, and wrestlers are in Serbia.


''We have managed to move qualification competitions and tournaments within weeks from China to other countries where the safety of athletes could be ensured,” Bach said.

May deadline sacrosanct?

Pound is a senior IOC member. But he was speaking as a rank-and-file member when he speculated that late May was a deadline to decide on Tokyo's future. The call will be made by the IOC executive board, the WHO, and local organizers.. It seems reasonable that a decision will have to be made with two months to go.

Indeed the Olympics have thousands of moving parts. Sponsors who have paid billions must activate ad programs. More than 11,000 Olympic athletes and 4,400 for the Paralympics have to know their training schedules. Add to that: flights, hotel reservations, catering, ticketing, and broadcast schedules. Almost 75 per cent of the IOC's income of $5.7 billion in a four-year cycle is from broadcast rights.


Tokyo is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics, although a national audit board says it's twice that much.

Pound said all of the alternatives had major drawbacks: pushing the start back a few months, postponing until 2021, moving events to scattered venues or another city, or an outright cancellation.