It’s the ultimate sporting venue: 11,000 athletes from 200 countries all committed to living up to the Olympic motto – faster, taller and stronger.
But as the Tokyo Games this year approaches, it’s not the usual worries – the potential for high temperatures or the logistics of organizing the biggest sporting event in the world – that’s the biggest problem for the organizers. It is the coronavirus.
On Friday, China reported 5,090 new cases and 121 new deaths in the previous 24 hours, Japan also had its first death as the virus continues to spread.
For now, however, the position of the International Olympic Committee is clear: there is absolutely no possibility that the Games, which should start in late July, will be postponed despite the growing global health emergency.
But athletics were equally optimistic before the indoor world championships, which would take place in Nanjing in March, were canceled. And so was Formula 1 before the Shanghai Grand Prix was shelved.
The virus has also wiped out golf tournaments, games and almost all sports in China, including Olympic qualifying events.
What worries medical experts is that with so many people crammed into a small area there is a possibility that infectious diseases will spread. This month Toshiro Muto, managing director of the Tokyo organizing committee, expressed some of these concerns by saying that he was “seriously concerned” that the spread of the coronavirus “could throw cold water on the impetus for the Games”.
Muto retired and organizing committee chairman Yoshiro Mori said this week that it was clear that “We are not considering canceling or postponing the Games.”
An IOC spokesman also said that all preparations for Tokyo 2020 will proceed as planned. “The IOC is in contact with the World Health Organization as well as with its medical experts,” he said. “We have full confidence that the competent authorities, especially in Japan, China and the World Health Organization, will take all necessary measures to deal with the situation.”
Craig Spence, spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee, insisted that the Paralympics will go on in late August. “Fear is spreading faster than the virus and it is important that we repress that fear,” he said.
It is worth noting that next month’s Tokyo Marathon is going on, although organizers have announced that China-based runners may differ until 2021 as many will have trouble traveling to Japan. They will also release masks and hand sanitizers during the race week.
In the meantime it is unclear whether Chinese athletes due to compete in sporting events in Britain in the coming month will take part.
Public Health England has confirmed that there are currently no restrictions for Chinese players participating in the prestigious badminton championships in England or the World Gymnastics Championships, both staged in Birmingham.
However, it is said within the sport that Chinese badminton players will withdraw from all European tournaments this month, as well as one in Germany the week before the All England event.
Badminton’s chief executive in England, Adrian Christy, said that the advice the organizer has received is to continue preparations for all of England as planned.
“We are closely monitoring the coronavirus and are in contact with Public Health England several times a week – and indeed they have been very helpful,” he said. “The advice we have been given is to continue our preparations for all of England as planned, and we are doing it.
“We are also in regular contact with our international governing body which is monitoring this from a global perspective.”
Birmingham will also organize a gymnastics match for the World Cup next month and a spokesman for GB Gymnastics has insisted that “for the moment it is as usual.
“We continue to plan the Chinese delegations competing in Birmingham late next month,” he added.