Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizers again tried on Thursday to allay fears that the 2020 Games could be postponed or cancelled by the fast-spreading virus from China.
Tokyo Olympic CEO Toshiro Muto, who on Wednesday said he was “seriously worried” the virus could disrupt the Olympic and Paralympics, backtracked a day later and was more cautious in a news conference with officials from the International Paralympic Committee.
“In order to avoid any misunderstanding, I would like to say that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held as scheduled,” Muto said, adding people need to remain “cool headed.”
Craig Spence, the spokesman for the IPC, was even more direct with the Olympics opening in just under six months — and the Paralympics in just under seven.
“One thing I am noticing at the moment is fear is spreading quicker than the virus, and it is important that we quell that fear,” Spence said.
On Thursday, Japan confirmed 45 cases of the virus but no deaths have been reported. Tokyo Olympic officials said they have established a task force to focus on the virus and have been repeating for a week that the games will go ahead as planned.
Despite the assurances, questions keep coming with organizers saying they are deferring to the World Health Organization for advice.
“We need to put things into perspective, and until the World Health Organization tells us otherwise, we will proceed with business as usual,” Spence said.
The Olympics open on July 24, and the Paralympics follow on Aug. 25. Both events are experiencing record ticket demand, which could begin to shift the longer the virus threat spawns uncertainty. It’s a similar story with hotel demand.
Toshiaki Endo, a vice-president of the organizing committee, earlier in the week said organizers “are facing all sorts of problems including coronavirus infections, cyber security and transportation systems.”
Some Olympic and Paralympic qualifying events around the globe have been cancelled or postponed by the virus outbreak. Travel restrictions also complicate matters, particularly for China’s large Olympic and Paralympic delegations.
There is also the question of housing 11,000 Olympic athletes safely in the Athletes Village. The number is smaller for the Paralympics, but still in the thousands.
The Olympics have been cancelled during wartime, and faced boycotts in 1980 and 1984. The event has grown rapidly in the decades since, driven by multi-billion dollar television contracts and billions more from sponsors.
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Stephen Wade, The Associated Press