Pound believes IOC has three months to make call on Olympics amid coronavirus fears
Dick Pound, the veteran International Olympic Committee member, has claimed that a decision on whether to go ahead with this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo would have to be made by the end of May, as concerns mount over the impact of the spreading coronavirus.
The virus, which originated in China, has already forced the postponement, cancellation and relocation of various international sports events, and there is a threat to the Olympics and Paralympics, which take place between July and September.
Pound (pictured), the longest-serving IOC member, believes that, if the games do not take place then a cancellation rather than a postponement is the most likely outcome.
As things stand, the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 organising committee are committed to proceeding with the Olympics, which are due to run from 24 July to 9 August.
Katsunobu Kato, the Japanese health minister, said today that it was still too early to be discussing cancelling the games.
However, asked about a potential cut-off date for the Olympics, Pound told AP: “You could certainly go to two months out if you had to. A lot of things have to start happening. You've got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels, The media folks will be in there building their studios.”
Pressed on what would be the outcome if the games did not go ahead, the Canadian official said: “You’re probably looking at a cancellation. This is the new war and you have to face it. 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?'”
There have now been almost 78,000 reported cases and over 2,600 deaths relating to the coronavirus in China, and it has also had an impact in South Korea, with almost 1,000 cases, including 10 deaths, and, to a lesser extent, in Japan, the Middle East and Europe, most notably Italy.
The modern Olympics have only been cancelled on three occasions, in 1916, 1940 and 1944, all because of world wars.
The International Olympic Committee is taking advice from bodies such as the World Health Organisation as it monitors the coronavirus situation, and Pound stressed that a decision to call off the games would not be taken lightly.
He said: “It's a big, big, big decision and you just can't take it until you have reliable facts on which to base it.”
Pound claimed that whatever advice the IOC is now getting, “it doesn't call for cancellation or postponement of the Olympics. You just don't postpone something of the size and scale of the Olympics. There's 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.”
London mayoral election candidate Shaun Bailey has come in for criticism from Japanese officials for claiming that the UK capital could host the games if Tokyo is unable to do so, and Pound does not believe that relocation is practical anyway.
He said: “To move the place is difficult because there are few places in the world that could think of gearing up facilities in that short time to put something on.”
Pound is against the option of spreading events around multiple locations, saying this wouldn’t “constitute an Olympic Games. You’d end up with a series of world championships.”
Postponing the Olympics by a few months would result in a clash with major North American league and European soccer league seasons.
This was acknowledged by Pound who said: “It would be tough to get the kind of blanket coverage that people expect around the Olympic Games. It's certainly tougher than it would have been in 1964 in Tokyo (when the city was previously the host) when you didn't have the saturation sports schedule on television.”
He also questioned whether the games could be delayed by 12 months, saying: “Then you have to ask if you can hold the bubble together for an extra year. Then, of course, you have to fit all of this into the entire international sports schedule.”
Speaking about the potential financial impact of calling off the Olympics, Pound said the IOC had been building up an “emergency fund,” reported to amount to about $1 billion, to cover such an eventuality.
He added: “This would be what you normally call a force majeure… It's not an insurable risk and it's not one that can be attributed to one or the other of the parties. So everybody takes their lumps. There would be a lack of revenue on the Olympic Movement side."
Pound said that broadcasters may have their own insurance that would “mitigate some of the losses.”
The latest prominent sports event to have been postponed as a result of the coronavirus is the ITTF World Team Table Tennis Championships, which were due to take place in Busan, South Korea on 22 to 29 March.
The championships have been provisionally rescheduled for 21 to 28 June.
Other events in the Far East that have already been postponed include the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China, Formula 1’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai and the Singapore and Hong Kong legs of the World Rugby Sevens Series.
Disruption in Italy Meanwhile, there are doubts over various events in Italy, including the Six Nations rugby union match between the national team and England in Rome on March 14, after a coronavirus outbreak in the the country.
Several Serie A soccer games and Pro14 rugby union fixtures were called off last weekend.
The Six Nations told the UK’s Times newspaper: “Six Nations is monitoring this situation closely and is in contact with the FIR (Italian federation) and all other unions, as well as relevant local authorities and health organisations.”
There have been 220 cases of the virus, including six deaths, in the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto where a lockdown is now in place.
It was announced yesterday that Inter Milan’s home match against Bulgaria’s Ludogorets in the last 32 of the Uefa Europa League on Thursday will be played behind closed doors because of fears over the spread of the virus, and similar restrictions could be applied for Serie A games next weekend.
In other developments, RCS Sport, the organiser of three prominent Italian cycling races - Strade-Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo - said today it was "working hard to ensure the smooth running of these events."
It added that it was "in constant contact with the appropriate authorities and, in partnership with them, will assess taking all the most suitable measures for carrying out the sporting events."