The Tokyo Olympics should be postponed, according to a senior member of the Japan Olympic Committee, adding her voice to a growing chorus calling for Tokyo 2020 to be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It should be postponed under the current situation where athletes can’t be well prepared,” Kaori Yamaguchi, a JOC executive board member, told the daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun in an interview published on Friday.
Yamaguchi, who won a bronze medal for judo at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, is the first JOC board member to call openly for a postponement of the Tokyo Games. Her comments came as the Olympic flame was landing in Japan to a muted reception as organizers have scaled back events surrounding the torch relay due to the virus.
The coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 10,000 globally and played havoc with the international sporting calendar, raising doubts about whether the Games can open as scheduled on July 24.
Organizers have scrapped qualifiers and scaled back test events, while many countries have imposed travel bans.
The International Olympic Committee, which will take the final decision on whether to proceed as scheduled, has voiced its commitment to the Games going ahead.
Yamaguchi criticised the IOC stance, saying the body “is putting athletes at risk.”
“By asking them to train under these conditions, the IOC is opening itself up the criticism that it is not putting athletes first,” Yamaguchi told the newspaper.
“Unlike other sporting events, the Olympics symbolise the ideal that sports bring about world peace,” she said.
The Olympics should not be held “if people across the world can’t enjoy themselves,” she said.
“What I’m most scared of is that we force an opening and have people question the Olympics, asking, ‘Why only the Olympics?’” she said.
She also urged the IOC to at least set a deadline for its final decision.
Yamaguchi said she plans to argue her position when the JOC meets Friday next week, the business daily added.
IOC president Thomas Bach, speaking to the New York Times, said the organization was “considering different scenarios” for the Tokyo Games, but was optimistic about holding the event as scheduled despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The IOC will act on advice from its own task force and the World Health Organization, Bach said, adding that it was “premature” to make a decision on delaying the Games.
“Of course we are considering different scenarios, but we are contrary to many other sports organizations or professional leagues in that we are four-and-a-half months away from the Games,” Bach said.
For the Olympics, postponement “would not be responsible now and it would be premature to start speculation or make a decision at a time when we do not have any recommendation from the task force,” he added.
Pressure has been growing on the Games, scheduled to start on July 24, after the COVID-19 outbreak paralyzed many countries along with international travel.
With Olympic qualifiers among the tournaments affected by schedule changes, 43 percent of prospective Games athletes have yet to book their spots. But Bach said the situation was still too uncertain to make a decision about Tokyo.
“What makes this crisis so unique and so difficult to overcome is the uncertainty. Nobody today can tell you what the developments are tomorrow, what they are in one month, not to mention in more than four months,” he said.
“Therefore it would not be responsible in any way to set a date or take a decision right now, which would be based on the speculation about the future developments.”