Coronavirus Threatens Cancellation of 2020 Olympic Games

There is a higher chance of cancellation than postponement if the coronavirus proves too dangerous.

About two weeks ago, the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Inspection Team, John Coates, said at a press conference in Tokyo, Japan after meetings with organizers of the 2020 Olympic Games, “We can confirm that Tokyo 2020 remains on track.

According to the Associated Press (AP), that may not be entirely true.

The current longest serving member of the IOC, Dick Pound, determined an approximate two to three month window before confirming whether or not the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games would happen at all due to the looming threat of the coronavirus.


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Note: all bolding done by BarBend Editorial Staff for emphasis.

In Pound’s interview with the AP, he said, “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?”

The “this” he is referring to is the current outbreak of the coronavirus that initially broke out in Wuhan, China (which geographically neighbors Japan) and has since spread across multiple continents and threatened a global pandemic. Despite an estimated 81,296 cases of the virus worldwide at the time of this article according to Worldometeronly 172 thus far have been in Japan; 3 of which has resulted in death.

According to the New York Times, 2 of those lethal cases were quarantined on a cruise ship.


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The decision as to whether or not the Olympic Games will take place could happen as late as May. If the IOC comes to the conclusion that it is not safe to host the Olympic Games in Japan due to the threat of the coronavirus, Pound says, “you’re probably looking at a cancellation”.

That leaves over eleven thousand athletes who are expected to compete at the Olympic Games in a precarious position. Pound’s words for them:

“As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo. All indications are, at this stage, that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.”

The Olympic Games have never been cancelled for any reason other than war — the 1940 Olympic Games, which Japan was also scheduled to host, were cancelled because of World War II. 

This is not the first time the IOC has had to consider the fate of an Olympic Games while under the pressures of a viral disease. The 2016 Rio Olympic Games happened as scheduled despite Zika virus scares.

Regarding the argument of postponing the Games versus cancelling them altogether, should it come to that, Pound remarks, “You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, ‘We’ll do it in October.'”

The current IOC position with regard to such a decision will happen in consultation with the World Health Organization (WHO).


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Pound remarked that the future of the Olympic Games is no longer entirely in the IOC’s control and is dependant on the trajectory of the coronavirus. He put it in grandiose terms that if the coronavirus were to scale to a rate similar to the Spanish flu, which wreaked havoc in the early 1900’s:

“…everybody’s got to take their medicine.”

Feature image @pancake_woman100 on Instagram.