Japanese Minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Seiko Hashimoto on Tuesday said that the contract to hold the Tokyo Olympic Games only specifies the event has to be held during 2020.
Hashimoto’s response to a question in the Japanese Diet’s upper house implies that the Olympics could be held later in the year and would not have to start on July 24 as planned. The Paralympics are to open on Aug. 25.
The Tokyo Olympics are being threatened by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The IOC [International Olympic Committee] has the right to cancel the Games only if they are not held during 2020,” Hashimoto told parliament. “This can be interpreted to mean that the games can be postponed, as long as they are held during the calendar year.”
However, the suggestion of a possible change of plan was quickly batted back at a meeting of the IOC executive board in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“We are going to have the games on the 24th of July,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said at a briefing.
IOC president Thomas Bach and Tokyo organizers have repeatedly said that they expect the Olympics to open on schedule.
Others have suggested that the spreading virus could force the cancelation or postponement of events, or moving them to other cities.
The IOC said earlier on Tuesday that it has a “full commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, taking place from July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020.”
Bach then made the unusual move of stepping out from the first day of a two-day meeting at IOC headquarters to make a statement.
“I would like to encourage all the athletes to continue their preparation for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 with great confidence and with full steam,” he said.
Bach also praised a panel created last month that brings together the WHO, public authorities in Japan, and Olympic officials in Tokyo and Lausanne.
In an interview last week with only Japanese media, Bach had declined to “fuel the flames of speculation” about reports of cancelation or postponement.
Hashimoto was asked if she believed that the Olympics should be held even if the outbreak becomes worse than it is now.
“We are making the utmost effort so that we don’t have to face that situation,” she said.
Any decision to move the games back would affect international broadcasters, who would have sway over any changes.
The IOC gets 73 percent of its US$5.7 billion income in a four-year Olympic cycle from selling broadcast rights. About half of that TV income is from US network NBC.
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held in October, but the games have shifted to summer, largely because it is 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 soccer in England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy, as well as rugby and cricket.
A decision about the Olympics likely must be made in the next few months, former IOC vice president Dick Pound said last week.
The Olympics have been canceled only three times in modern history, all during wartime.
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