As IOC preaches calm in wake of coronavirus, Japanese official indicates postponement of Olympics possible

As the International Olympic Committee continues to express confidence that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will go on as scheduled, a Japanese official on Tuesday raised the possibility that the event could be postponed to later in the year in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Japan's Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto told the country's upper house of parliament that the contract for the Tokyo Games stipulates only that the event be held at some point during the calendar year, leaving open the possibility that it could be postponed to later in 2020. The Olympics are scheduled to run from July 24 through Aug. 9.

"The IOC has the right to cancel the Games only if they are not held during 2020," Hashimoto told parliament, according to The Associated Press. "This can be interpreted to mean the Games can be postponed as long as they are held during the calendar year."

According to the news agency, Hashimoto was also asked if she believed the Olympics should be held as scheduled even if the coronavirus continues to spread in the coming months.

"We are making the utmost effort so that we don’t have to face that situation," she replied.

In this Sept. 11, 2019, file photo, then newly appointed Minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Seiko Hashimoto speaks during a press conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File) (Photo: Eugene Hoshiko, AP)

Postponing the Olympics would likely be a gargantuan task, given the number of athletes, sports — and, of course, money — involved. Individual athletes have designed their training programs specifically around their dates of competition, and moving the Games would likely cause substantial ripple effects across the global sports calendar.

The IOC, for its part, has repeatedly said it has not even considered canceling or postponing the Games despite the spread of the coronavirus, which has now infected more than 88,000 people in 64 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

In a statement released Tuesday, the IOC reiterated that it is fully committed to hosting the Games as originally scheduled and encouraged all athletes to continue preparing as usual. The IOC added that has been in contact with the WHO, and its executive board was briefed Tuesday by members of a joint task force about "all the measures taken so far to address the coronavirus situation."

"I would like to encourage all the athletes to continue their preparation for the Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020, with great confidence and with full steam," IOC president Thomas Bach told reporters.

Despite the IOC's certainty about the situation, questions about the Games have persisted as the virus has continued to spread. Speculation grew last week after senior IOC member Dick Pound told the Associated Press last week that the committee would likely have to make a decision to cancel or postpone the game by 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?'" Pound said.

When asked about that possible deadline in a news conference Tuesday, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams told reporters there's been no discussion of a deadline for a final decision on the Olympics because "we've (already) made a decision."

"And the decision is that the Games go ahead," Adams said. "That was made some time ago. We see no reason to change that decision.

"All the advice we have at the moment is the Games are going ahead, from all of the competent authorities. You can have all the speculation that you want, and I'd love to give you a good story. But the fact is, on all of the proper evidence that we have from the competent authorities, there is no reason for us not to plan to have the Games starting on the 24th of July."

Contributing: The Associated Press

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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