A final decision whether to postpone the Tokyo Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic will be taken in the coming days, according to sources within the Olympic movement.
With pressure mounting every day, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach have scheduled a telephone conference at 11am GMT on Tuesday, the Japanese government said.
Japan’s Sankei newspaper reported on Tuesday that the government were negotiating with the IOC to postpone the Games for up to a year, in what would be a first in the 124-year modern history of the Olympics.
The IOC and Japanese government had announced they would undertake a month-long consultation before making a final decision but there looks to have been a rethink as more and more voices joined the chorus of calls for a postponement.
On Monday, the former IOC board member Dick Pound said the Swiss-based body appeared to have decided to delay the event, likely for a year, due to the virus.
The outbreak has now infected more than 377,000 across 194 according to a Reuters tally on Tuesday morning, with over 16,500 deaths linked to the virus.
Efforts to contain it have led to major travel, commercial and social restrictions, which have also hindered the ability of many athletes to prepare for the Games.
Canada and Australia have already said they will not be sending teams to Tokyo if the Games go ahead as scheduled this year, while Britain said it was likely to follow suit after meeting with sporting body representatives on Tuesday.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee said it had listened to feedback from athletes and was encouraged by a clearer path towards postponement.
“Even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” the USOPC said in a statement on Monday.
The United States is by far the most successful nation in the history of the modern Summer Games, while the rights deal with American broadcaster NBC to televise the Olympics represents from 50% to 70% of the IOC’s total annual revenues.
Tony Estanguet, head of the Paris 2024 Olympics organising committee and an IOC member, said a delay of the 2020 Olympics was likely.
“Today the Games are not the priority, the priority is health, and that is how the world of sports contributes to that international solidarity,” Estanguet said on France Info radio.
Japan and the IOC have said calling off the Games entirely is not an option but a delay would present major logistical difficulties given the crowded global sporting calendar and other commercial considerations.
World Athletics said on Monday they would be willing to move their 2021 world championships, scheduled for Aug. 6-15 in Eugene, Oregon to clear a path for a 2021 Olympics.
An Olympics postponement would be a blow for host country Japan, which has pumped in more than $12 billion of investment, and huge sums are also at stake for sponsors and broadcasters.
A poll showed about 70% of the Japanese think it is appropriate to delay the Olympics, the Sankei said.
The Olympics have never before been delayed, though they were cancelled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the two world wars. Major Cold War boycotts also disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984.