International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach challenged speculation that the Tokyo Games could be delayed or cancelled amid the growing coronavirus threat, even as former colleagues suggested a decision would need to be taken in the coming monhts.
Bach told reporters during a carefully-orchestrated press conference in Tokyo late Thursday that he would "not add fuel to the flames of speculation" with respect to Games, which are scheduled to begin with a gala opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 24, and insisted the IOC was "fully committed" to the current schedule.
"The official position of the IOC is that we are fully committed to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and that we are already now doing everything to ensure not only the success off the games, but also to ensure the qualification and the preparations of the athletes of the world," Bach told a select group of major Japanese media outlets Thursday. "Because the safety of every participant at the Olympic Games, be it athlete, official, spectator, is the top priority for the IOC and also for the organizing committee of Tokyo 2020."
Bach's statement followed comments from two former IOC vice presidents -- Canada's Dick Pound and Australia's John Coates, who also heads the Committee's Tokyo inspection team -- that suggested a decision whether to host the Games would need to be take in May.
Japan, with its proximity to the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China, is uniquely susceptible to its spread and has already confirmed at least 214 cases of the respiratory-focused disease.
Walt Disney Co's (DIS) - Get Report Tokyo Disneyland, as well as its DisneySea theme park, will close for at least two weeks, its operator, Oriental Land, said Friday, just 24 hours after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took the unprecedented step of closing the nation's schools for a least a month in an effort to thwart the virus, while the island state of Hokkaido has declared an official state of emergency for its 5 million residents.
Japan's professional baseball league, meanwhile, said it will play the remainder if its 72 pre-season games, which are scheduled to end on March 15, in empty stadiums around the country.
"Taking into account that the next one to two weeks are extremely important in stopping the spread of infection, the government considers there to be a large risk of transmission at sports, cultural events and large gatherings of people," Abe told lawmakers Wednesday.
A nearer-term concern for Olympic organizers, however, could be the rfate of the traditional torch relay, which is set to begin on March 12 in the Greek city of Olympia before arriving in Fukushima two weeks later.
A spokesperson for Japan's Olympic Organizing Committee said a "big policy" decision on the relay would be made next week, while Committee CEO Toshiro Muto has hinted it could be scaled-down in order to reduce any risk of spreading the coronavirus from Europe to Japan.
"Japan's determination, and the great solidarity by the sports movement and beyond the sports movement, puts us in a position again to say we are continuing our preparations so these are successful games as planned," IOC president Bach said.