Greece’s Olympic committee said last Friday it will limit the number of guests at today’s Tokyo Games flame lighting ceremony in Olympia, western Greece, due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
The flame is being lit even in light of an announced pandemic and perhaps with organizers and host city still not yet awoken from the shock of the devastating effect of the virus.
While the committee said earlier this week that the ceremony will go ahead as scheduled on March 12, today, it said in a statement that “accreditation cards for guests will not be issued” due to the virus, which has seen over 120,000 confirmed cases worldwide, and over 4300 deaths, as of this morning.
The Olympic torch is being lit at the ancient temple of Hera. It will then continue an eight-day journey through 37 cities in Greece before being handed over to Japan, where the torch will visit 47 prefectures over 121 days before arriving at the opening ceremony on 24 July. Event scheduled to last till August 9, 2020.
If that ever happens, a scenario that is proving more and more unlikely.
Postpone event up to 2 years?
If the Olympics can’t go ahead this summer in Tokyo because of the coronavirus epidemic, the most realistic option would be to delay the event by one or two years, according to the Wall Street journal quoting Haruyuki Takahashi in an interview with the daily. He is one of about 25 members of the Tokyo Olympic Committee member of the executive board.
The board hasn’t met since December, before the new coronavirus epidemic arose, and hasn’t discussed the impact of the virus on the Games.
Dick Pound, a former Canadian swimming champion who has been on the IOC since 1978, making him its longest-serving member, estimated there is a three-month window — perhaps a two-month one — to decide the fate of the Tokyo Olympics, meaning a decision could be put off until late May.
“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?’” he said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said the organization had not mentioned the words “cancellation” or “postponement” during two days of executive board meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland. Bach said the I.O.C. would follow the advice of the Geneva-based W.H.O.
Olympics to go ahead as planned…but wait
Olympic organisers have insisted the Tokyo Games will go ahead as planned in July despite the sharp spike in Covid‑19 cases across the globe.
Yoshiro Mori, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief, said his team were not considering changing plans for the Games and the sources at the International Olympic Committee pointed that still more than four months remain before the Games begin.
An expert from the W.H.O. reportedly said that the most important thing would be to create a screening process for participants, athletes, fans and others, and to create a risk profile of countries and regions.
But a spokesman for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee said that it had been holding conversations with its athletes, sponsors and other stakeholders about a number of alternative plans for the Games.
The American traveling party for the Summer Games can reach as high as 10,000 people, including athletes, coaches, support staff members, friends, family, donors and sponsors.
The most immediate concern, according to US and international sports officials, is the qualifying events for the Games; a number have already been postponed or canceled, wreaking havoc on the process for choosing athletes and teams that will go to the Olympics.
Without final qualifying competitions, officials may be forced to rely on seasonal leader boards or world rankings to determine who gets to participate. That could lead to athletes’ missing out on the Games, or filing last-minute grievances with the Court of Arbitration for Sport to fight for their places.
OK, Olympics on but without fans?
Can Tokyo Games this summer happen without fans, with thousands of athletes competing in front of seas of empty seats?
As the coronavirus continues to spread, sporting events without fans are edging toward becoming a kind of new normal, with the Champions’ League and Europa League already doing that, and with some European leagues halting games for now.
Fans were barred from attending the International Biathlon Union’s World Cup event in the Czech Republic recently.
And in England, where Premier League clubs have been told to avoid pregame handshakes, teams have been advised to begin making plans for the prospect of playing matches without crowds.
“Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with all relevant organisations which carefully monitor any incidence of infectious diseases and will review any countermeasures that may be necessary with all relevant organisations,” the local organizing committee said in a statement.
A global spectator event
The Olympics attract millions of people from all over the world, including athletes, trainers, spectators and media workers among other groups, Statista.com wrote.
According to the IOC, 4.5 million tickets have already been sold for Tokyo 2020, illustrating the scale of the event and the enormity of the decision the IOC and the local organizing committee will eventually have to make. The following chart shows how many tickets were sold for the five Summer Olympic Games since Sydney 2000.
As the following chart shows, the Summer Olympics have only been cancelled three times in the modern era dating back to 1896. The 1916 games in Berlin fell victim to World War I and the 1940 and 1944 games, scheduled to be held in Helsinki and London, respectively, were cancelled due to World War II. Interestingly, the 2016 Rio games were also clouded by a health crisis, as many athletes refused to participate due to the ongoing outbreak of the Zika virus.