The chief executive of the Tokyo Games has said he cannot guarantee the postponed Olympics will be staged next year even with a 12-month delay.
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, issued an emergency declaration this week to battle coronavirus, putting the country under restrictions after it had seemed it would avoid the spread. Japan, which has the world’s oldest population, has reported about 5,000 cases and 100 deaths.
“I don’t think anyone would be able to say if it is going to be possible to get it under control by next July or not,” the Tokyo Organising Committee CEO, Toshiro Muto, said. “We’re certainly are not in a position to give you a clear answer.”
The Olympics were postponed last month with a new date set for 23 July 2021, followed by the Paralympics on 24 August.
Abe has been criticised for being slow to act against coronavirus. Opposition political leaders have suggested he downplayed its severity and have said this might have been tied to wanting to hold the Olympics this year.
“We have made the decision to postpone the Games by one year,” Muto added. “So this means that all we can do is work hard to prepare for the Games. We sincerely hope that come next year mankind will manage to overcome the coronavirus crisis.”
Muto was asked if there are alternative plans to 2021. “Rather than think about alternatives plans, we should put in all of our effort,” he said. “Mankind should bring together all of its technology and wisdom to work hard so they can developtreatments, medicines and vaccines.”
Muto was asked several times about the added costs of postponing, which have been estimated by Japanese media at between $2bn-$6bn. He said it was too soon to know the price tag and who would pay.
He also acknowledged that Tokyo Olympic organisers had taken out insurance. “Tokyo 2020 has taken out several insurance policies,” he said. “But whether the postponement of the Games qualifies as an event that is covered is not clear yet.”
He was also asked about the Olympic flame, which was taken off public display this week in Fukushima prefecture.
“After the Olympic torch relay was cancelled, the Olympic flame was put under the management of Tokyo 2020,” Muto said. “Obviously in the future there is a possibility it might be put on display somewhere. However for now it is under the management of Tokyo 2020 and I’m not going to make any further comment on the issue.”
There are suggestions the International Olympic Committee is thinking of taking the flame on a world tour, hoping to use it as a symbol of the battle against the virus. However any tour would be impossible until travel restrictions are lifted. Taking the flame away from Japan could also upset the hosts.