WHO Set To Give ‘Basic Thoughts’ On Olympics & Coronavirus As Unrepentant Tokyo 2020 Board Member Sounds “Warning Bell”

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The World Health Organization (WHO), which elevated the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis from ‘global health emergency’ to pandemic status yesterday, will “soon” announce its “basic thoughts” about whether the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games can proceed as planned from July 24 to August 9, Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori has told media in the Japanese capital.

Decisions will also affect the Paralympics, scheduled for  August 25 to September 6.

Today in Athens, the Olympic Flame for the Tokyo Olympics was lit in the absence of a crowd for the first time for the ceremony at Olympia in 36 years. The Games may also go ahead without spectators, some Games bosses have suggested.

Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, dressed as a high priestess, ignited the flame using the sun’s rays and a parabolic mirror at the Temple of Hera. Twenty Japanese children that had been scheduled to take part in the ceremony could not travel due to containment measures  in their country.

Mori spoke after unrepentant Tokyo 2020 executive board member Haruyuki Takahashi insisted that while it would be “impossible” to cancel the Games altogether, he had suggested a postponement of 1-2 years as “a warning bell” and would be raising the issue at a board meeting later this month.

Any words and hints from WHO, after talks with the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, will be significant beyond “basic thoughts” as teams, spectators, parents, fans, media and more seek solid guidance not just on Plan A – ‘show goes on’ – but on a Plan B  for them and the biggest mass gathering events on the horizon at a time when the NBA, universities, schools and, indeed, a whole nation – Italy – are in lockdown as part of containment measures against a virus for which there is no vaccine and no treatment/cure.

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An extract from the note sent to teams arriving for Sectionals at Mizzou

In swimming, the Olympic trials of China and Italy have been postponed, a FINA task force is to make recommendations after a proposal from the federation’s top table to impose a three-month moratorium on all aquatic events, including Olympic test events, the NCAA has mandated crowd-control, the YMCA cancelled its short-course championships for the first time since 1947, the South American Championships were cancelled,  the Ivy League called off all athletic events for the rest of the season and the Sectionals at Mizzou, University of Missouri, were abandoned as teams arrived for warm-up yesterday, arriving teams told  too late “don’t come to Columbia”.

Tensions are running high, among key explanations why included in this analysis of the pandemic, which advocates taking an Italian approach that includes : “Closure of all educational establishments (schools, universities…), gyms, museums, ski stations, cultural and social centers, swimming pools, and theaters.” (Read the full list of Italian lockdown policies in place at the foot of this article).

New York City now has 62 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced, the New York Times summing up the latest developments in the city with this list: NYC to add ‘more restrictions’ to halt the spread; The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan is postponed; Rules inside New York’s “containment zone” go into effect today;  Classes at CUNY and SUNY will mostly be held online; A New Jersey public high school has closed.

Other events, in sport, commerce, industry and the academic sphere, are expected to be called off in the coming days, the Trump administration in the United States imposing a ban on all travel from European Union countries barring the UK, even though the UK has just as big a challenge on its hands as everyone else and several EU countries have had no cases of COVID-19 at all. In an announcement poorly received far and wide, the President if the United States spoke of protecting Americans from “a foreign virus”, inviting criticism that he is politicising a global health crisis that knows no borders.

The Olympic Games knows no borders either when it comes to being open to the whole world. Games bosses want the doors to stay open for Tokyo 2020 but discussion is now turning to the need for a Plan B, even if Plan A might yet be saved.

The Olympic & Paralympic Question

tokyo2020-logo“Of course we are concerned,” Mori told reporters, conceding the outbreak that has infected more than 117,339 people worldwide and caused 4,251 deaths will have some effect on the Games.

“I didn’t say it won’t, I think there will be,” he said. But “as the organising committee, it is only natural for us to move forward with our work as scheduled,” Mori added.

He and Japanese Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto dismissed the notion of postponing the Games for a year or even two, as suggested by Tokyo 2020 executive board member Haruyuki Takahashi. An official statement noted that such as delay was Takahashi’s “personal” view.

Mori said a two-year delay was impractical because some Olympic venues would not be available in 2022, while Takahashi indicated that that was the point of starting to plan now. Said Mori: “This is not something that you can delay one or two years and make it happen.

“Honestly I thought the statement was out of line,” he said of Takahashi’s remarks, adding that he had asked him to consider his comments more carefully.

Takahashi was unrepentant, however, when he spoke to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun daily and insisted that he had raised what might be “the most feasible option” because “there has to be an alternative plan.” He told the newspaper:

“The coronavirus has become a global problem. We can’t just hold it (the Olympics) because Japan is OK. It [the Tokyo 2020 organising committee] needs to face the current situation and consider, with sports associations, measures to take in case of postponement.”

He said the summer two years from now “offers the best possibility” for a postponement, given the international sporting calendar, adding that “preparation must start now” if a delay is on the cards.

Olympic minister Hashimoto maintains that alterations to the schedule were not on the cards. She said:

“From the viewpoint of athletes who are the main protagonists in the Tokyo Games, as they are making adjustments and preparations for this once-in-four-years event… it is inconceivable to cancel or postpone,” she told a parliament committee. It was, she said, important for Japan to provide the IOC with honesty and accurate information so that a “sensible” decision could be made on the fate and timing of the Games.

Soon after the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic yesterday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference:

“There is no change to the government stance that we will make preparations for the Tokyo Games as planned by keeping close contact with the International Olympic Committee, organizers, and the Tokyo metropolitan government.”

He did not mention the WHO, the view from which will be critical to whether the Olympics and Paralympics will start on timetable, if at all.

The Italian Lockdown Policies in Place

  • Nobody can enter or exit lockdown areas, unless there are proven family or work reasons.
  • Movement inside the areas is to be avoided, unless they are justified for urgent personal or work reasons and can’t be postponed.
  • People with symptoms (respiratory infection and fever) are “highly recommended” to remain home.
  • Standard time off for healthcare workers is suspended
  • Closure of all educational establishments (schools, universities…), gyms, museums, ski stations, cultural and social centers, swimming pools, and theaters.
  • Bars and restaurants have limited opening times from 6am to 6pm, with at least one meter (~3 feet) distance between people.
  • All pubs and clubs must close.
  • All commercial activity must keep a distance of one meter between customers. Those that can’t make it happen must close. Temples can remain open as long as they can guarantee this distance.
  • Family and friends hospital visits are limited
  • Work meetings must be postponed. Work from home must be encouraged.
  • All sports events and competitions, public or private, are canceled. Important events can be held under closed doors.

 

3 comments

  1. Michael Venis

    Kaz Boskovic Gus Bennett Ned Wieland Josh Stevens And to think it won’t be foolhardy to run Aussies given similar athlete numbers