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IOC Has Cancellation Timeline for Olympics if Coronavirus Can't Be Controlled

29 Feb, 2020

By: Michael Popke

As concerns about the spread of coronavirus escalate throughout Asia and the rest of the world, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes are being urged to keep training and preparing for the Summer Games in Tokyo. The Olympics are scheduled for July 24 to Aug. 9, with the Paralympics slated for Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.

Team USA plans to send a delegation of 620 athletes and twice as many coaches and executives to Japan, according to Bloomberg.com. The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee told individual governing bodies that there is “no reason to deviate from any of our Tokyo Games planning and preparation.”

But the spread of the virus, which has so far killed 3,069 and infected nearly 90,000 worldwide, has prompted suggestions the Games might be postponed or cancelled. 

Take our poll: What effect do you think the coronavirus will have on the 2020 Games in Tokyo? Click here!

As NYmag.com reports, “movement of athletes has been limited, qualifying events have been disrupted and plans to train tens of thousands of volunteers have been postponed.” Even the Tokyo Marathon on March 1 was canceled for all but about 200 elite runners, affecting nearly 38,000 registrants. Changes are being considered for the torch relay as well.

“There are no considerations of canceling the Games, nor will the postponements of these activities have an impact on the overall Games preparation,” officials said in late February after training for 80,000 Olympic volunteers in Tokyo was postponed until May in an effort to “prevent the spread of infection,” according to NYmag.com

Days later, however, the fate of the 2020 Games seemed up in the air as officials confronted the ugly truth of the issue.

As InsideHook.com reports:

Dick Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee, raised the possibility of a potential shift in the scheduled start for the Olympics, saying that it’s something the IOC [is] monitoring while also reaffirming the belief that it will not be necessary to do so.

“If there’s a legitimate pandemic that is potentially a lot more lethal than normal illnesses of flu, that’s when you need to start thinking about it. But not at this stage,” [he said].

If the Olympics were to be moved, it would likely be a location change, not a time change. Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports industry at the Emlyon business school … suggested following in the 2020 European Championships’ footsteps and hosting the Olympics in a handful of neighboring countries. As noted in the report, however, both the IOC and sponsors would likely balk at changing the location, and Japan, which has already spent over $25 billion to host the event, would likely raise protests as well.

In response, IOC President Thomas Bach sought to reassure the public, claiming the organization is "fully committed to a successful Olympic Games in Tokyo."

Time.com laid out a potentially devastating financial scenario were the Games to be canceled or relocated: “According to hospitality research firm CBRE Hotels, 80,000 hotel rooms were forecast to open across Japan’s nine major cities between 2019 and 2021,” writer Charlie Campbell reports. “Tokyo’s Okura hotel reopened in September after a $1 billion renovation. In May, national carrier Japan Airlines is due to launch a low cost subsidiary, Zipair Tokyo, at a cost of around $200 million, to meet increased demand surrounding the Olympics. It will be based at Tokyo Narita International Airport, which is currently undergoing an expansion to nearly double capacity. (Tokyo’s other main airport, Haneda, is also due to boost capacity by 70 percent.)” 

“The Games are estimated to have cost Japan more than 1 trillion yen (around $9 billion), more than seven times original estimates, although still well below the mammoth spending of the 2008 Beijing Olympics ($45 billion) and Russia’s 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics ($51 billion),” reports TheDiplomat.com, which covers international current affairs for the Asia-Pacific region. “Some estimates, however, put the cost of the Tokyo event at up to $25 billion. Japanese companies have reportedly also paid more than $3 billion in sponsorship deals to organizers, a record amount. International broadcasters have also spent heavily, with U.S. TV network NBC alone paying $1.4 billion for the broadcast rights.”

By Feb. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were predicting the coronavirus outbreak would reach global pandemic status.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of when this will happen and how many people in this country will become infected and how many of those will develop severe or more complicated disease,” Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for the CDC, told reporters.

That could force a change of plans not only for Team USA but also for the Olympics. This crisis does not appear to be going away anytime soon.

A few Frequently Asked Questions at the moment appear to include the following:

Why can't the Olympics just be postponed? 

Because too much is at stake. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Pound said: "You just don't postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There are so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can't just say, `We'll do it in October.'"

And forget about just asking another country to host, either.

The Associated Press quoted Pound as saying this would be unlikely seems unlikely “because there are few places in the world that could think of gearing up facilities in that short time to put something on.”

London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has suggested the British capital as an alternative. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike suggested the offer was an attempt to use the virus for political purposes.

Yes, we've seen changes of candidate cities (Remember #NoBostonOlympics?), and in 1972, when Denver (who had been awarded the 1976 Games) refused to host, the event was moved to Sion, Switzerland, which had hosted in 1964 and had many venues still intact. That, however, was four years out - an age of time, compared to the few months left in the present calendar.

Couldn’t different aspects of the Games be moved to various cities throughout the summer?

Nope. Pound said he would not favor a scattering of Olympic events to other places around the world because that wouldn’t “constitute an Olympic Games. You’d end up with a series of world championships.” He also said it would be extremely difficult to spread around the various sports over a 17-day period with only a few months’ notice.

When will a decision be made?

Pound, in speaking to the AP, estimated there is a three-month window — perhaps even two-months — to decide the fate of the Tokyo Olympics, meaning a decision could be put off until late May.

“In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?’”

Has an Olympics ever been cancelled?

Yes, but only once – in 1940. Tokyo was supposed to host then too, but World War II made hosting impossible. And to say the city doesn’t want another cancellation is an enormous understatement.

In 2016, the Olympics took place in Rio, despite concerns with the Zika virus – which saw a few athletes stay home in order to avoid contagion.

Take our poll: What effect do you think the coronavirus will have on the 2020 Games in Tokyo? Click here!

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