International Olympic Committee head tells athletes it is 'full steam ahead' for Tokyo 2020 despite coronavirus threat

IOC president insists: we are preparing for a successful Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach delivers a statement on the COVID-19 situation during a meeting of the executive board at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne on March 3, 2020.   The COVID-19 which has already killed more than 3000 people in the World will be at the center of a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on March 3 and 4, 2020 in Lausanne less than five months before the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Tokyo. / AFP / Fabrice COFFRINI

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave further strong backing to this summer's Tokyo Olympics and urged athletes to prepare "full steam" despite the coronavirus threat.

Both Tokyo 2020 Olympics organisers and the IOC have repeatedly stressed that the July 24-August 9 Games will go ahead as planned despite the outbreak, and that there is no plan B.

"We are preparing for a successful Olympic Games Tokyo 2020," IOC head Thomas Bach said at an executive board meeting to discuss the situation.

"I would like to encourage all the athletes to continue their preparation for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 with great confidence and full steam.

"From our side, we will continue to support the athletes and the National Olympic Committees."

The 66-year-old German lawyer and former Olympic fencing champion has a firm grip on IOC decision-making and is known for sticking to his guns in adversity.

However, multiple sports events around the world have been cancelled during the epidemic, which has killed nearly 3,000 people in China and spread to more than 60 nations including Japan where infections are near 289 and six people have died.

Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, suggested last week there is a risk of cancellation in Japan if the virus is not contained by the end of May.

Earlier on Tuesday, Japan's Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, said the event could be postponed until the end of the year.

“The IOC has the right to cancel the games only if they are not held during 2020,” Hashimoto told parliament. “This can be interpreted to mean the games can be postponed as long as they are held during the calendar year.”

Asked if she believed the Olympics should be still held even if the coronavirus outbreak is worse than it is now, Hashimoto said: “We are making the utmost effort so that we don’t have to face that situation.”

Any decision to move the games back would impact international broadcasters, who would have sway over any changes.

The International Olympic Committee gets 73 per cent of its $5.7 billion [Dh20.9bn] income in a four-year Olympic cycle from selling broadcast rights. About half of that TV income is from American network NBC.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held in October. But the games have now shifted to summer, largely because it's the only time slot open for sports broadcasters.

North America in the fall is filled with the NFL, college football, baseball, basketball and hockey. Europe is jammed with football in England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy, not to mention other popular sports on the continent including rugby and cricket.

Tokyo organizers on Tuesday were forced to call off a Paralympic wheelchair rugby test event following suggestions from Prime Minister Shizo Abe to hold down large crowd events for several weeks.

Tokyo organizers have 17 test events remaining on their schedule. The last one is to end on May 8. Most are small events featuring only local athletes. The most significant is a gymnastics test on April 4-6 that is expected to have non-Japanese athletes competing.

Japan's professional baseball league is playing preseason games in stadiums without fans, and the soccer J-League has suspended play until March 18.

The Tokyo Marathon was held on Sunday with only a few hundred elite runners, instead of a public event for 30,000 participants.

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