(LONDON) — As the novel coronovirus pandemic solidifies its grip around the globe, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged on Monday that delaying the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo was “unavoidable.”
“If it is difficult to hold [the Games] in a complete way, a decision of postponement would be unavoidable,” Abe told lawmakers during a parliamentary session in Tokyo.
Abe pushed hard for Tokyo’s selection as the host city during an International Olympic Committee meeting in 2013. Until now, the Japanese prime minister and Olympic organizers have held firm that the Games will kick off as planned on July 24.
Japan appears to have successfully slowed the spread of the respiratory virus on home soil so far, with just 1,101 diagnosed cases as of Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. But as the health crisis deepens in other parts of the world, including Europe and North America, a growing number of Olympic teams and athletes are calling on organizers to postpone or cancel the upcoming Games.
The International Olympic Committee’s executive board on Sunday said it would assess the worldwide situation over the next four weeks and make a decision that could include the scenario of postponing the Games. The board, however, emphasized that it has no current plans to outright cancel the 2020 Summer Olympics as such a scenario “would not solve any of the problems or help anybody.”
Just hours after the International Olympic Committee said it would consider delaying — but not canceling — the Tokyo Games, Canada became the first country to announce it won’t be sending athletes to this year’s Olympics due to risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic. The Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee called on organizers to delay the Games for one year.
“While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community,” the committees said in a joint statement Sunday. “This is not solely about athlete health — it is about public health.”
Australia followed suit Monday. After deciding unanimously not to send a team, the Australian Olympic Committee said in a statement that “our athletes now need to prioritize their own health and of those around them, and to be able to return to the families.”
Australian Olympic Committee CEO Matt Carroll said athletes should prepare for the Tokyo Games in 2021.
“The athletes desperately want to go to the games,” Carroll told reporters in Sydney on Monday, “but they also take onboard their own personal health.”
“We need to give our athletes that certainty,” he added, “and that’s what we’ve done.”
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