TOKYO (Reuters) - A delay of one or two years would be the “most feasible” option if the Tokyo Olympics cannot be held this summer due to the global outbreak of the coronavirus, a member of the organising committee’s executive board told Reuters.
But the head of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee quickly dismissed any suggestion of a delay, saying his team was not considering any change in plan and Haruyuki Takahashi, the official who raised the possibility of a postponement, had apologised for the “outrageous” suggestion.
Takahashi, one of more than two dozen members of the Tokyo 2020 executive board, said earlier the board had just started looking at scenarios for how the virus could affect the Games, and a delay was one possibility.
Organisers have been pushing a consistent message that the Games would not be cancelled or postponed but sponsors who have pumped in billions of dollars have grown increasingly nervous about how the coronavirus outbreak will impact the event.
Takahashi told Reuters that the financial damage from cancelling the Games or holding them without spectators would be too great, while a delay of less than a year would clash with other major professional sports schedules.
“We need to start preparing for any possibility. If the Games can’t be held in the summer, a delay of one or two years would be most feasible,” Takahashi said.
But organising committee head Yoshiro Mori later said there was no thought of changing the plan for the Games and that they would open as scheduled on July 24.
“It is our basic stance that we press ahead with preparation for a safe and secure Olympics,” Mori told reporters at a hastily arranged evening briefing.
“Therefore we are not at all thinking about changing courses or plans.”
Japan has had nearly 1,300 cases of the coronavirus, including about 700 from a cruise ship that was quarantined near Tokyo last month.
On Tuesday, it saw the biggest number of infections in a single day, of 59 cases, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Mori, asked what made him confident that the Games would not be affected by the coronavirus outbreak, said he thought an impact was unavoidable but he did not give details.
“Specialists in each field are looking into what to do,” he said. “I believe the WHO (World Health Organization) will soon announce its basic stance.”
He said he had been surprised by Takahashi’s comments, which he termed “outrageous”.
“He said he was very sorry, that it was a slip of the tongue, and that he wanted to apologise for causing trouble.”
Experts say a one-year postponement, to the same time next year, would pose major logistical problems but was doable for broadcasters because it fit into their generally open summer schedule.
With every new spike in coronavirus cases, speculation swirls that the Games could be cancelled, delayed, or held without spectators, like many pre-Olympic qualifiers and other sports events.
The topic was a top trending topic on Japanese Twitter on Wednesday with many commentators saying a postponement was likely inevitable given the spread of the coronavirus.
Some people felt sorry for the athletes.
“Doesn’t anybody understand the conditions and thinking of top athletes who have been training to be at their best this summer? And you say ‘delay by one or two years’?” wrote one user called “Ksktsupoine1.”
Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Chang-Ran Kim, Shiho Tanaka and Elaine Lies; writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman/Peter Rutherford