Tokyo Olympic Games: Cancellation D-Day Late May Over “New War” Coronavirus, Says Dick Pound

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Late May is the deadline by which the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 Games organisers will have to make a decision on whether to proceed, postpone or cancel as a result of the threat posed by the coronavirus now spreading around the globe.

That’s the view of Dick Pound, the former Commonwealth swimming champion and longest-serving member of the IOC, who believes that if it came to postponement, cancellation is the more likely outcome because:

“This is the new war and you have to face it.”

In an exclusive interview with Associated Press (AP), Pound estimates that there is a three-month window in which a decision will have to be taken on what is currently an official World Health Organisation Emergency but gets ever closer to becoming a pandemic.

Pound, an IOC member since 1978, reports AP, was not alarmist but frank about the chances of the Games getting underway in Tokyo on July 24. He said:

“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to. A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels, The media folks will be in there building their studios.”

“This is the new war and you have to face it. In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo, or not?’”

The Growing Statistics Of A Spreading Virus

As of today:

  • China: 508 new cases and another 71 deaths, 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the epidemic was first detected in December. The updates bring mainland China’s totals to 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths.
  • South Korea: now has the second-most cases in the world with 977, including 10 deaths.
  • Japan: of some 160 cases of infection beyond those reported on board the ill-fated Diamond Princess cruise liner, there have been four deaths so far.
  • Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, Bali/Indonesia have all reported cases
  • Middle East: clusters of the illness are now appearing in the Middle East, Iran the worst affected so far.
  • Europe is on high alert: Italy is the worst affected, with more than 320 cases of infection arising in just three days, quarantine restrictions imposed on whole communities in the north and 11 deaths reported so far. Cases have also been reported in France, Britain, Germany, Austria and Croatia, Spain, including the island of Tenerife off the African coast, Austria and Switzerland.
  • Australia and Africa: the first cases have been reported
  • In the United States, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that the coronavirus outbreak could cause “severe disruption” to the lives of ordinary Americans, and urged families and communities to start making preparations.

Pound encourages athletes to keep training

About 11,000 athletes are expected to compete at the Olympics, and another 4,400 at the Paralympics, which open on August 25. Pound tells AP:

“As far as we all know you’re going to be in Tokyo. All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.”

In the history of the Olympic Games, 1916, 1940 (which were to have been staged in Tokyo but were cancelled as Japan waged war on China, on the citizens of other countries by placing them in brutal intern camps, and then beyond its region in World War II) and 1944 were cancelled due to war, while 1976, 1980 and 1984 were affected by boycotts.

Pound echoed the IOC’s official stance: that consultations with the World Health Organization, a United Nations body, are continuous – and the Games will go on, as of yet. Pound noted the hard decision ahead, however, saying:

“It’s a big, big, big decision and you just can’t take it until you have reliable facts on which to base it.”

So far, advice “doesn’t call for cancellation or postponement of the Olympics”. He added:

“You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, we’ll do it in October.”

On the likelihood of using another city, Pound noted: “To move the place is difficult because there are few places in the world that could think of gearing up facilities in that short time to put something on.”

AP reported: “London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has suggested the British capital as an alternative. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike suggested that was an inappropriate offer, using the virus as political campaign fodder.”

Pound said he would not favor a dispersal of events over various venues around the world, the Games very much a festival of unity in sport. Division would simply create “a series of world championships,” said Pound, a Canadian lawyer.

U.S. broadcasters, NBC the lead player, would be unlikely to favour a few months of postponement, Pound believed, because of commitments to American football, college football, European soccer, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey. Similar problems existed in other parts of the world, said Pound, adding:

“It would be tough to get the kind of blanket coverage that people expect around the Olympic Games. It’s certainly tougher than it would have been in 1964 in Tokyo when you didn’t have the saturation sports schedule on television.”

Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics, a national audit board having suggested the true figure is twice that.

A year-long postponement would mean holding “the bubble together for an extra year”, said Pound, while clashes with other sports events would be a serious problem, contracts in place for such things as the World Championships in swimming.

The IOC has an emergency fund for such crisis points. It is said to be worth $1bn and is set aside for “unforeseeable circumstances”. The $1bn would affect the funding of sports federations such as FINA because, as Pound put it:

“It’s not an insurable risk and it’s not one that can be attributed to one or the other of the parties. So everybody takes their lumps. There would be a lack of revenue on the Olympic Movement side.”

Broadcasters are likely to be insured for some losses. The hit would be big, nonetheless. AP noted that about 73% of the IOC’s $5.7 billion income in a four-year Olympic cycle is from broadcast rights.

The Games and all involved were now in the hands of what happens next with the coronavirus. Pound pointed to a pandemic that did not affect the Olympics because war already had: the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak infected an estimated 500 million people around the world, about 27% of the-then world population. The death toll has been estimated at between 40 and 50 million (some estimates as high as 100 million), making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. Said Pound:

“If it gets to be something like the Spanish Flu. At that level of lethality, then everybody’s got to take their medicine.”

Australia’s Olympic boss tells his team to “stay calm and plan to be in Tokyo on July 24 and plan to be at your best…”

Australian Team Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman had a clear message to the athletes on his team: “Stay calm, get on with what you can control which is your training and plan to be in Tokyo on July 24 and plan to be at your best because its going to be a great Games.

“To date I’ve had no athletes express grave concerns to me at all…….but athlete safety and welfare is our primary concern at the AOC and that’s fundamental to the way we operate our teams.”

Chesterman said that a planned Australian Team planning visit to the Games site at the end of March would go ahead.

“We have a planning that visit at the end of next month and we will be proceeding with that as an important part of what we want to do.

“We will continue to take advice as we go along but it is full stream ahead for our planning at the moment and for the athletes it’s full steam ahead for them and their training.

“But we are aware of the issues, we are dealing very seriously with the issues, Coronavirus is a very serious issue and should be taken very seriously at every level.

“I know that in Japan it is being taken very seriously, by the Japanese Government, the Tokyo Organising committee, I know the IOC their medical experts are also very much across the issues and taking advice from the world health organisations.

“From our point of view we continue to look to the IOC to take the lead on these matters, they have that access to and have expertise and information across all those areas, but we are all working towards being in Tokyo and having a very successful Games.

“All the advice we are getting is that the Games will take place on July 24 and all we can do is take advice we are given and take that seriously.

“We are taking it very seriously and we are not going to go through the next few months avoiding the conversation, we are dealing with it, we are taking all the advice and we are all confident the Games will go ahead.”





  1. Leslie Cichocki

    What’s the likelihood of the Paralympics being continued or cancelled in Japan 3 weeks after the Olympics?

    • Karen Bundick Crook

      Leslie Cichocki they said keep training like everything is normal

  2. Debra Nevett

    I hope it doesn’t get cancelled all the hard work the athletes have done .

  3. Amanda Lynn

    Please stop the fear mongering ??‍♀️

  4. Leslie Cichocki

    Debra Nevett I agree. If it does I hope they have a plan B for those who qualified.

  5. Craig Lord

    Amanda Lynn we’re reporting what a senior IOC member stated as are waves of other media around the world … he‘s telling it like it is … the fear you talk of is real … but among those confined to their homes, villages towns and so forth.

  6. Craig Lord

    Leslie Cichocki same scenario as the O Games – no telling at this stage but by late May they will need to know … that’s the crux of it

  7. Anchaya Ketkeaw

    Lim Carmen might be cancelled Paralympic as well ….. ?

  8. Anchaya Ketkeaw

    Lim Carmen did you heard world series para Italy is cancelled

  9. Lim Carmen

    Anchaya Ketkeaw yes because the outbreak in northern italy is particularly bad 🙁

  10. Anchaya Ketkeaw

    Lim Carmen They invest the research a lot, it still doesn’t work?

  11. Amanda Lynn

    Craig Lord I live in Northern Italy I don’t need a lecture on the realities of COVID-19. The media is causing panic.

  12. Craig Lord

    Amanda Lynn you’re not getting a lecture … perhaps you might consider you being the one lecturing? the media is largely reporting – and the media I read is quite measured – what official folk are saying … which is precisely and purely what we have reported in this article. Hope all goes well in Northern Italy. Quite a few Sports events have been cancelled , folk in quarantine not far from where you say you are … that‘s not spreading fear … just reporting the facts.

  13. Jacki Nabor

    This would be the worst case scenario for the athletes that are in their prime right now. Keep training hard!!! Think positive!

  14. Julie Austin

    Amanda Lynn It’s not fear mongering. It’s REPORTING.

  15. Mary-Helen Hopkins

    Oh man! I hope they don’t cancel! That’s the best tv ever every four years! I’m always already craving the next one as soon as one finishes!???

  16. Kaili Baas

    Maybe a back up venue for various sports should be thought of…..

  17. Christina Robson Mastroianni

    Kaili Baas funny I was just mentioning this to Joe and wondered what they may do and then this lol

  18. Amanda Lynn

    Craig Lord Dick Pound is a former swimmer and IOC member and NOT an epidemiologist. Even the WHO is encourage calm, measured responses and not fanning flames. Talk about cancelling the Olympics in the summer is sensational and will spread fear.

  19. Kaili Baas

    Plan for it….I know wouldn’t be the same, but at least they could have an event….just idea!

  20. Kris Connor

    Would be so sad for all the athletes! Let’s hope virus containment by then

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Indeed, Kris

  21. avatar
    Linda Neary Robb


    • Joshua Zhang

      Bridget Lin YIKES whaaaaat but not surprised

    • Joshua Zhang

      Something international like Olympics is perfect for disease spread

  22. Claudine Campanelli

    Linda Martin Tinamarie Martin-Duff Michele Campanelli-Erwin

  23. Annabelle Ancheta

    It’s soo nice to be there but tooo expensive ?✌️

  24. Deborah Park

    Might it be too much to ask that the IOC think out of the box on this one. There are pools and stadia around the world so give this years crop of athletes the chance to compete come what may. Alternatively beast up the quarantine and med facilities in Tokyo and Japan. Speaking purely selfishly I don’t want to abandon our plans to see the Games and visit Japan. ??

  25. Jennifer Scott

    Why not use another venue in another country? There are so many places athletes can compete around the world even if they are split up!

  26. Martin Levine

    If cancellation is truly on the cards, a single alternate venue would not mitigate the risk of global travel. An option could be that each continent holds a closed door time trial event whereby results are submitted and medals awarded accordingly. Obviously each submission would not only need highest levels of officials, but VAR coverage to confirm performances. Not ideal, but surely better than canceling.

    • Colleen Hazlett

      Martin Levine How would one hold a wrestling or basketball timed final?

  27. Colleen Hazlett

    Remember all of the fear about the Zika virus in Brazil?

  28. Manyi Szaszko

    Szeretem nézni.
    De mindenki egészsége fontosabb az olimpiánál.
    Lehetne, hogy csak a sportolók közvetítők legyenek ott.
    Nagy biztonságban odaszállitani őket, és tévén nézni, de az már nem olimpia
    Sajnálnám a sportolókat, ha nem lenne lehetőség megtartani.
    Ők nem erre készülnek.

  29. Lance Braughton

    I think I heard the back up plan was to hold it in Los Angeles!

  30. Pat Sheehan

    This is utter nonsense… its no worse then the flu maybe less dangerous.. this is a hyped up by media and cdc … dont believe me … just look at the Deaths in the US from the flu in the last few years … then check out world wide Deaths from the the flu , you will be surprised!

  31. Julie Tellier

    The CDC states that 26,176,000 Million people in the USA get the flu each year and of those, 57,000 die from it. That’s just in the good old USA. I don’t understand why Flu with the fancy name coronavirus is creating so much concern?