The Tokyo Olympics could be postponed until the end of 2020 in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto has told lawmakers that Japan’s agreement with the IOC potentially allows them to delay the Games taking place.
“The contract calls for the Games to be held within 2020. That could be interpreted as allowing a postponement,” Seiko Hashimoto said in response to a lawmaker’s question in Parliament today.
At present, the Tokyo Olympic Games are planned to run from July 24 until August 9 and both Japan and the IOC have insisted they are committed to running the event to schedule.
Under the hosting agreement, the right to cancel the Games belongs to the IOC.
“We are doing all we can to ensure that the Games go ahead as planned,” Hashimoto said.
Any halt to the Games would be costly.
The latest budget is 1.35 trillion yen (£9.8billion), with Japan’s government providing 120 billion yen (£870m) to build the Olympic Stadium and 30 billion (£217m) toward the cost of the 2020 Paralympics, Hashimoto said.
Japan’s Board of Audit put government spending between the bid in 2013 and 2018 at 1.06 trillion (£7.2bn).
Test events for the Olympics have been cancelled amid the outbreak in Japan and Dick Pound, vice-president of the IOC, has suggested that the Games could be called off if the virus is still around by May.
At present, it shows no signs of abating. NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting organisation, said today that the number of infections in the country has reached 980, including 706 people on the Diamond Prince cruise ship.
There were also reports of a woman in Japan catching the virus for the second time, in what is believed to be the first instance of such a case.
Suggestions have already been made that the Games could be held without any fans in attendance in order to limit the spread of the virus. Protesters in Japan have called for the event to be cancelled because of the outbreak.
British Cycling chief Stephen Park said that holding events in empty stadiums could be the best way to avoid calling the event off or having it moved to another country.
Speaking yesterday, Park said: “Right now, I’m really confident it will go ahead. You would struggle to find a day when the Olympics didn’t take part for any reason.
“So, will it mean that they might be different? Possibly. Look at the World Cup skiing in two weeks’ time in Cortina, they are doing it on a closed circuit with no fans, and that’s going to an area that doesn’t currently have any infections.
“So might there be some of those things that happen? Possibly. Equally we are not worried about them. We are making sure that we don’t let it become a distraction or overtake the preparation.
“As soon as you start doing that, start thinking it might not happen, what are you preparing for? Does that mean you start easing off, change the budget allocation? So we are full steam ahead expecting to be there in July in Tokyo.”