It’s the last thing NBC and other major backers of the Olympics will want to hear, but Japan’s prime minister has finally admitted that the Tokyo Games may have to be rescheduled in light of the global disruption being caused by the coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19
Shinzo Abe’s comments, which came on Monday, March 23 Japan time, followed an announcement several hours earlier by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in which it said it would analyze the situation over the next four weeks before making a final decision on whether the Games can be held as planned.
The Tokyo Games is due to begin on July 24, but growing complaints from international athletes and athletics organizations over safety and lack of training opportunities amid the global disruption caused by the virus has finally forced the IOC to look at other options that include everything from a pared down event or postponement, or even cancellation.
The IOC said at the weekend that it plans to consider scenarios that “relate to modifying existing operational plans for the Games to go ahead on 24 July 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the Games,” but insisted that “cancellation is not on the agenda.”
In recent weeks, as COVID-19 began to spread to more countries around the world, Abe consistently voiced his determination to hold the Tokyo Games on time and in its complete form, but on Monday changed tack, saying: “If it is difficult to hold the Games in such a way, we have to decide to postpone it, giving top priority to (the health of the) athletes.”
The IOC said it will consult with the Japanese authorities, global sports officials, broadcasters, and sponsors, among others, to consider how to move forward with the Summer Games.
But moving the Olympics is easier said than done. Besides being a monumental challenge for the Japanese government, rearranging it would also be a major headache for broadcasters around the world that have busy schedules to manage, as well as for sponsors and advertisers that have paid top dollar expecting maximum coverage at a time when the sporting calendar would otherwise be relatively quiet. It could also upset organizers of other major events on the sporting calendar that won’t want to be shoved aside by Games, or take place in the shadow of the much bigger event.