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Tokyo Olympics organisers dig in their heels after Trump suggests one-year delay

Reuters | Updated: 13-03-2020 06:07 IST | Created: 13-03-2020 06:07 IST
Tokyo Olympics organisers dig in their heels after Trump suggests one-year delay

Tokyo 2020 organisers said on Friday they were moving ahead with preparations to hold "safe and secure" Games on schedule, after U.S. President Donald Trump said officials should consider delaying the event for one year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Trump in the morning to discuss the pandemic, domestic media said, citing government sources. They did not mention whether Abe raised Trump's comments on the delay on the call. Japan has sought to squash speculation that the event, which has cost it at least $12 billion in preparations and attracted more than $3 billion in domestic sponsorships, could be cancelled or postponed as the number of cases grows worldwide, including in Japan.

"The Tokyo 2020 organising committee wants to move ahead with preparations for a safe and secure Games this July," the organisers told Japan's public broadcaster NHK. It added that to that end, it is monitoring the coronavirus pandemic together with the international Olympic and Paralympic bodies, receiving advice from the World Health Organization, and coordinating with the government and the Tokyo authorities.

Abe has staked his legacy as the longest-serving Japanese prime minister on staging a successful Games and bringing a significant boost to the stagnant economy with tourism and consumer spending. The outbreak has already crippled global travel and hit Olympic qualifiers and other sports events. Japan has shuttered schools. Public health officials have discouraged large gatherings to curtail the spread of the highly contagious disease, and major soccer tournaments, National Basketball Association games and other sports have been halted.

"I just can't see having no people there," Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. "Maybe they postpone it for a year... if that's possible," he said, adding he would not officially make that recommendation to Abe, who could make his own decision.

"I like that better than I like having empty stadiums all over the place. I think if you cancel it, make it a year later that's a better alternative than doing it with no crowd," Trump said. One of more than two dozen members of the board of the organising committee, Haruyuki Takahashi, told Reuters this week that if the Games could not be held in the summer, it would be most feasible to delay them by a year or two. He told other media the decision should be made before May.

Takahashi also told Reuters the organisers had started working on scenarios for how the virus could affect the Games. A sponsor representative said the plans were confidential and were not being shared with the companies. Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori vehemently denied the Games would be cancelled, but added at news conference in the wake of Takahashi's comments, "I am not saying there won't be any impact. I think there will be. On that, specialists in each field are looking into what to do."

On Thursday, the prelude to the games got underway with the lighting of the Olympic Torch in a scaled-down ceremony behind closed doors.


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