The coronavirus outbreak has left organizers of one of the major international sports events more likely to cancel the 2020 Tokyo Olympics than postpone them, citing the complications caused by trying to push competition back by months or even a year.
When is the deadline for deciding the fate of the Olympics?
The 2020 Olympics are scheduled for July 24-Aug. 9. Countries have already begun the selection process in some sports that will result in approximately 11,000 athletes descending upon Tokyo.
Dick Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, said officials could wait until May to decide whether to proceed with the Olympics but added that the organizing committee probably needs three months of lead time. He cited the need to get the Olympic Village secured, furnished, and stocked with food and supplies if the IOC abides by the current schedule. Also, broadcasters need time to build studios and bring in equipment.
“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Pound told The Associated Press.
Postponing the quadrennial competition is not a simple alternative because of uncertainty about how long it will take to contain the coronavirus outbreak. The viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 80,000 people across the world and killed over 2,700 people, including four in Japan.
If the IOC determines the Olympics cannot be held as scheduled in Tokyo, “you’re probably looking at a cancellation,” Pound said.
Trying to push the Tokyo Games back to the fall would limit the participation of some athletes in professional leagues for sports including soccer and basketball. LeBron James, Michael Westbrook, Jayson Tatum, Kawhi Leonard, and Stephen Curry are among the NBA stars under consideration to represent the United States.
Television networks would also be affected. NBC, which paid $1.45 billion for the U.S. rights, has NFL and college football games on its schedule. The network might be forced to choose between showing Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson or popular Olympic sports such as gymnastics and swimming.
What are the potential options?
Postponing the Olympics by a full year potentially puts the IOC head-to-head with qualifying for soccer’s 2022 World Cup and leaves Tokyo with billions of dollars in new facilities and no revenue to pay the financing in the interim.
Moving the entire competition to another city on short notice is a logistical nightmare and does not guarantee that the coronavirus outbreak wouldn’t still be a complication. Dispersing events to multiple countries would reduce the burden on one city to organize so quickly but would still be daunting from national organizing committees and broadcasters.
“You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics,” Pound said. “There’s so many moving parts.”
Tokyo officials have dismissed a suggestion by London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey to move the Olympics to London, which hosted in 2012.
Have the Olympics ever been canceled?
The modern Olympic Games began in Athens in 1896 and the summer competition has been scheduled for every four years since.
The onset of World War I forced the cancellation of the 1916 Olympics, which had been awarded to Berlin. The 1940 and 1944 competitions, slated for Helsinki and London, respectively, were called off because of World War II.
A boycott called by the United States reduced the scope of the of the 1980 Moscow Games, The Soviet Union responded by leading a boycott of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.