Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said that other Group of Seven leaders had agreed to support a “complete” Olympics in Tokyo, as speculation mounts that the coronavirus pandemic could force the Games to be postponed.
Abe said he had told other G7 leaders during their video conference on Monday night: “We are doing everything in our power to prepare, and we want to aim for a complete event as proof that mankind can defeat the new coronavirus.”
He said other leaders had backed his plan, but he would not be drawn on whether their discussions had touched on a possible postponement.
Abe was speaking after the head of the French Olympic committee, Denis Masseglia, said the Olympics would not be able to open as scheduled on 24 July unless the coronavirus outbreak had peaked by the end of May.
“My feeling is that if we’re still in the crisis by the end of May, I can’t see how the Games can happen (on time),” Masseglia told Reuters in Paris. “If we are beyond the peak and the situation is getting better questions will arise about who qualifies, but we will find the least worst solution.”
The International Olympic Committee, which has publicly supported Japan’s insistence that the Games will go ahead as planned, is due to talk to international sports federations on Tuesday, and national Olympic committees the following day.
Tokyo 2020 preparations suffered more disruption this week after organisers said spectators would be asked not to turn out to watch the first part of the Japan leg of the Olympic torch relay, which is due to begin on 26 March. Organisers are expected to ask people not to line the route as the torch passes through the first three of the country’s 47 prefectures, the Kyodo news agency said.
The flame was lit last week in Olympia in a low-key ceremony that was closed to members of the public. The Greek leg of the relay was called off the following day over coronavirus fears, and restrictions will be in place when the flame arrives in Japan at the end of this week.
While Japan has reported comparatively few cases of the virus, some Tokyo residents said they were worried by the prospect of people arriving from overseas to watch the Games.
“To be honest, even if Japan overcomes this crisis, we wouldn’t (want to) receive visitors from the world. I think we’d better not hold it,” Koki Miura, an employee at an internet company, told Agence France-Presse. “We cannot sacrifice people’s lives” for the sake of the Olympics, Miura added.
Public opinion in Japan appears to be hardening against holding the Olympics in the capital in less than four months’ time. In a poll by public broadcaster NHK conducted March 6-9, 45% were opposed to going ahead as planned, with 40% in favour. In a Kyodo survey released on Monday, 69.9% of respondents said they did not believe the Games would be held on schedule.