A woman looks at displays in the newly opened Tokyo Olympic Museum near the New National Stadium, Sunday, February 23 2020, in Tokyo (AP Photo / Jae C. Hong)
TOKYO – Tokyo Olympics organizers and the Japanese government went on the offensive on Wednesday after a senior IOC member said the 2020 games are at risk of spreading a virus outbreak and their fate is likely in the next three Months will be decided.
Toshiro Muto, CEO of the Tokyo Organizing Committee, abruptly called a press conference late Wednesday afternoon to respond to comments by Former International Olympic Committee vice president Dick Pound in an interview with The Associated Press.
"Our basic idea is that we will continue the Olympic and Paralympic Games as planned," said Muto in Japanese. "At present, the situation of coronavirus infection is difficult to predict, but we will take steps to have safe Olympic and Paralympic games."
The virus outbreak that started in China infected more than 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700 people worldwide. China has reported 2,715 deaths among 78,064 mainland cases. Five deaths in Japan have been attributed to the virus.
Pound has been a member of the IOC since 1978, served as vice president for two terms, and was founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency. He served 13 years longer than IOC President Thomas Bach. He also represented Canada as a swimmer at the Olympic Games.
"You could certainly go out two months if you had to," Pound told the AP in a phone interview from his Montreal home. "On the whole, you see a cancellation. This is the new war and you have to face it. In and around there people will have to say," Is this under sufficient control so that we can be sure to go to Tokyo or not? "
Pound spoke as a simple member and not part of the current leadership of the IOC, but his opinions are often sought in IOC circles.
"We never thought about the end of May or heard of such a comment," said Muto. "When we asked about it, we received an answer that this is not the position of the IOC."
The IOC has repeatedly announced that the Games will take place in Tokyo and has followed the advice of the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency.
The Japanese virologist Dr. Hitoshi Oshitani, who previously worked for WHO, said last week that he could not predict the situation in five months.
The Olympic Games will open on July 24 with 11,000 athletes, followed by the Paralympics on August 25 with 4,400 athletes.
Australian IOC member John Coates, who heads the Tokyo inspection team, pointed out that the IOC has an emergency fund of approximately $ 1 billion that can be operated in the event of an Olympic Games cancellation.
"The games will not be canceled," Coates was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. “However, if the games were canceled, the IOC could continue to fund member sports and NOCs (National Olympic Committees). However, there are no plans to cancel the games. "
He added: "We canceled the games in the past in wartime … it's just a matter of monitoring how this develops."
At a government task force meeting on Wednesday about the virus outbreak, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was asking the organizers to cancel or postpone major sporting or cultural events over the next two weeks.
"The next week or two are extremely important to prevent the infection from escalating," said Abe. "We ask the organizers to cancel, postpone or reduce such events."
He did not name any specific events, but said he was talking about nationwide events that attract large crowds.
The three-month window also applies to sponsors and television stations who have to consolidate their planning. Not to mention travelers, athletes and fans with 7.8 million tickets for the Olympic Games and 2.3 million for the Paralympics.
As the games drew closer, Pound said, “Many things have to happen. You need to start improving your security, your food, the Olympic Village and the hotels. The media people will build their studios. "
Muto declined to speculate about the future condition of the virus.
"I don't think I can guess what could happen in the coming months," said Muto. “The Prime Minister has announced measures to be taken in the next two weeks, and that's why we're taking this into account. The biggest problem would be if these new types of coronavirus infections spread far and wide. So the most important thing is to take measures to prevent this. "
He also said that the torch relay would continue. It is scheduled to start on March 26 in Japan in Fukushima Prefecture, which is 250 kilometers northeast of Tokyo.
"We have absolutely no intention of canceling the torch relay," said Muto. "We want to think about how we can implement it while preventing infection from spreading, including downsizing or otherwise."
Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto said in parliament on Wednesday: "We believe that it is necessary to create a worst-case scenario in order to improve our operations and be successful."
She added that plans were being made "so that we can safely hold the Tokyo Olympics".
Also on Wednesday, the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that the Colombian Olympic Committee decided not to participate in pre-Olympic training camps in southern Japan.
More information on the new type of corona virus can be found here.
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