Tokyo 2020 organizers bracing for new coronavirus

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics torch relay is scheduled to begin in late March. Organizing committee Director General Toshiro Muto told reporters on Wednesday that he will consider scaling back the event and implementing measures to allow for the relay to take place while also preventing the spread of the virus.

The Olympic flame will be transported to Japan on March 20 after being lit in Olympia, Greece. The torch will start making its way across the country on March 26 from Fukushima Prefecture. Rehearsals have taken place in every city the relay will pass through.

Government steps in

Muto’s remarks came on the same day the Japanese government called for large gatherings, including sporting and cultural events, to be canceled or scaled down for about two weeks.

He said the committee will decide whether to hold scheduled events after analyzing how integral they are to the Games. He added that the committee has compiled guidelines so that when events are held, participants will know what preventive measures to take. He said a basic policy is now being discussed, and he hopes to unveil it before the end of next week.

The New National Stadium will host the opening ceremony on July 24.

However, there's a potential spanner in the works. IOC member Dick Pound said during an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday that the decision of whether the Games will go ahead could only be put off until late May.

He also said that around that time, people have to ask if the coronavirus outbreak is under sufficient control. He said if the IOC decides the Games cannot go forward as scheduled in Tokyo, "you are probably looking at a cancellation."

The Minister for Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games Seiko Hashimoto was asked by an opposition lawmaker about the government's take on Pound's remarks.

The minister said the organizers asked the IOC and were told that Pound's remark was not the official view, but was an explanation that the IOC is preparing to hold the Tokyo Games as scheduled.

Hashimoto also said simulating the worst case scenario is necessary to improve the quality of the Games to make them a success. She said should be done is to contain the virus as soon as possible and give athletes and organizers peace of mind as they prepare for the Games.

Seiko Hashimoto, Minister for Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games.

First cancellations

The new coronavirus has already been affecting a series of events ahead of the Games.

The Japan Para Sports Association decided to postpone an upcoming boccia test event for the Tokyo Paralympics. The organizer has concluded that further time is necessary to fully analyze the potential impact should the coronavirus infect an athlete.

The international event had been scheduled to take place at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre for three days from February 28.

Elsewhere, Mongolia's national archery team has canceled its training camp in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, central Japan. The team was scheduled to hold the camp from February 19 until March 7.

Mongolia's archery association said the government asked sporting bodies not to participate in competitions and training camps in Asian countries while the virus outbreak continues.

Participants in the torch relay for the Tokyo Olympic Games held a rehearsal on February 15 in the city of Hamura, western Tokyo.

And Olympic organizers have postponed training for 2,700 volunteers to May or later. Some 80,000 people have already registered to help out and are in need of at least basic training if they're to carry out their duties.

It's just five months until Tokyo 2020, but the coronavirus outbreak is already having a huge impact on preparation, leaving organizers with a tricky balancing act if they're to move forward smoothly.