Coronavirus outbreak: Tokyo Olympics, on your mark, set... No!

Updated: Mar 17, 2020, 08:35 IST | PTI | Tokyo

While Japan PM Shinzo Abe and IOC chief Thomas Bach insist preparations should continue as per July 24 schedule, opposition against Tokyo Olympics grows in the wake of Coronavirus

A woman walks past the Olympic rings in front of the new national stadium for the Games in Tokyo recently. Pic/Getty Images
A woman walks past the Olympic rings in front of the new national stadium for the Games in Tokyo recently. Pic/Getty Images

Doubts are growing in Japan about the Tokyo Olympics, with growing opposition to holding them as scheduled and some urging officials not to risk lives by pressing ahead during the Coronavirus emergency. Officials like Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach have repeatedly insisted preparations should continue to light the Olympic flame on July 24.

But with events from the Premier League to NBA basketball scrapped, and Japanese sport also at a standstill, even US President Donald Trump has suggested putting the Olympics on hold. Japan has seen relatively few cases, with 814 testing positive and 24 dead. But some people on the streets of Tokyo voiced concern for the fans that would pour in from abroad. Koki Miura, 27, an employee at an internet company, told AFP: "To be honest, even if Japan overcomes this crisis, we wouldn't receive visitors from the world. I think we'd better not hold it. We cannot sacrifice people's lives for it," said Miura, who wants the Games to be postponed—if not cancelled outright. Public opinion in Japan appears to be moving against the Games.

Shinzo Abe
Shinzo Abe

A poll for public broadcaster NHK taken March 6-9 suggested 45 per cent were opposed to going ahead as planned, with 40 per cent in favour. And a new poll of more than 1,000 people released on Monday by Japan's Kyodo news agency showed 69.9 per cent of respondents believe Tokyo will not be able to hold the Games as scheduled. Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike has said it is "unthinkable" to cancel the Olympics but the decision rests with the IOC, which is planning emergency talks with international sports federations on Tuesday, according to an IOC source. Bach has stressed the IOC will follow World Health Organization recommendations regarding a possible postponement. But he has also acknowledged that the cancellation of qualifying events was posing "serious problems".

At the beginning of March, Bach said the IOC would show "flexibility" regarding qualifications for the Tokyo, and encouraged "all athletes to continue to prepare" for the Games. Pensioner Masao Sugawara, 90, told AFP: "Personally, I think it would be safer to postpone the Olympics for a year, just as President Trump said. Look at the panic. Of course, it would be disappointing, though," he admitted. Manfred Otto, 45, a half-Japanese, half-German lawyer, said he was "worried" about the Games and stressed: "We really need to be careful. If the outbreak does not get controlled by June or July, I think we should postpone it," said Otto.

Thomas Bach
Thomas Bach

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