The International Olympic Committee has ruled out staging the Tokyo Games behind closed doors because it would be anathema to the whole philosophy of a movement that seeks to bring people across the globe together in celebration of sport.
Almost every major sport has shut down because of Covid-19 but the IOC and the Tokyo Organising Committee are continuing to maintain the Games will go ahead in July.
While such an approach has drawn criticism, those with knowledge of the situation say the IOC wants to give athletes every chance to compete in Tokyo and it believes there is no need to make a quick decision regarding postponement given the opening ceremony is four months away.
Some sports, including horse racing and snooker, are continuing behind closed doors but such an approach has already been rejected by the IOC in internal meetings. One source said: “It would go against everything we stand for. The Olympics is more than just a series of competitions, it is about bringing everyone together to celebrate sport.
Another put it more bluntly: “An event with closed doors and no spectators is not an option.”
Any major disruption to the Games’ scheduling would have serious consequences for sponsors, broadcasters, 11,000 Olympic and 4,400 Paralympic athletes, staff, airlines, hotels and volunteers and could saddle organisers with $1bn in lost ticket sales.
The IOC has accepted it will need to relax qualification standards so athletes who are on the borderline can be selected even if they are unable to compete in the coming months because of the pandemic.
Nearly 60% of athletes have qualified but with qualifying events, including those for climbing, boxing, fencing and judo, having been cancelled or postponed, many athletes are worried about being left in the lurch.
Dai Greene, the 2011 400m hurdles world champion, said there needs to be flexibility, otherwise “a lot of athletes will not be able to qualify for Tokyo – regardless of whether the Games will go ahead”.
The problem will be discussed at an executive board meeting on Tuesday and the IOC is already looking at ways to house more athletes in Tokyo if the number increases. Olympic organisers have also held conference calls with individual sports to discuss how best to plan for the Games amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said on Monday he wanted the Olympics, which has cost at least $12bn and attracted more than $3bn in domestic sponsorship, to represent a worldvictory over coronavirus.
According to a telephone poll conducted by the Kyodo news agency, Abe’s fellow citizens are less optimistic, with 69% saying they did not think Tokyo would be able to host the Games as planned.