TOKYO – Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics said preparations are “continuing as planned” on Tuesday, even as Japan’s football league became the latest sporting event to be cancelled.
The J-League has been called off till mid-March, starting with seven cup games scheduled for Wednesday, as fears of a pandemic grow. Its postponement comes a day after South Korea’s K-league was suspended. The Chinese Super League is also on hold.
But Games organisers say it has never discussed the option to cancel the Tokyo Olympics, which is scheduled to run from July 24 to Aug 9 and draw millions of fans and tourists and thousands of athletes and officials, according to a statement sent to AFP.
A medical panel advising Japan’s government said the coming weeks will be critical in preventing the outbreak from spreading out of control.
In Japan, there have been at least 156 people who tested positive for the virus, including the nearly 700 on a cruise ship who were quarantined off the country for two weeks. Four who fell ill on the ship have died, while Japan has reported one fatality linked to the virus.
But the country’s tally is dwarfed by the tens of thousands of cases and 2,663 deaths in China.
Officials are exercising caution, including suspending training for Olympic volunteers over the weekend while restricting Sunday’s Tokyo marathon to only elite runners.
Olympics organisers have reiterated that they are not considering any changes to the Games, which have been in planned for seven years and expected to cost 1.35 trillion yen (US$12.2 billion).
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said on Friday that “we are not yet reaching that point” when asked if the schedule was under review.
Earlier this month John Coates, head of the International Olympic Committee coordination commission, also said there was no danger of the Games being cancelled or moved.
"The advice we have received from the World Health Organization is that there is no case for a contingency plan to cancel or move the Games," Coates told reporters in Tokyo.
Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee, estimates that there is a three-month window to decide the fate of the Tokyo Olympics.
"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?’,” he told AP News.
Pound encouraged athletes to keep training. About 11,000 are expected for the Olympics, and another 4,400 for the Paralympics, which open on Aug 25.