Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has warned that the Tokyo Games would have to be scrapped if the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for them to take place next year.
The IOC and the Tokyo Olympic organising committee announced in March that the Games, which were due to open this July, would have to be postponed by a year due to the global spread of the virus.
Last month, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe said that holding the Games would be “difficult” unless the pandemic was contained before they are due to begin on 23 July next year.
Bach said Abe had made it clear to him that, as far as Japan was concerned, next year was “the last option”.
“Quite frankly, I have some understanding for this, because you can’t forever employ 3,000 or 5,000 people in an organising committee,” Bach said.
“You can’t every year change the entire sports schedule worldwide of all the major federations. You can’t have the athletes being in uncertainty.”
Bach did however add that the IOC was committed to holding the Olympic Games in the Japanese capital next year, even though the outbreak could force organisers to take precautions, including quarantining athletes.
“What could this mean for the life in an Olympic village?” he said. “All these different scenarios are under consideration and this is why I’m saying it’s a mammoth task, because there are so many different options that it’s not easy to address them [now].
“When we have a clear view on how the world will look on July 23, 2021, then [we will] take the appropriate decisions.”
The director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, conceded at the weekend that it would “not be easy” for 11,000 athletes from more than 200 teams to compete safely in Tokyo.
“We hope Tokyo will be a place where humanity will gather with triumph against Covid,” Tedros said at a news conference in Geneva on Saturday.
“It is in our hands, but it is not easy. If we do our best, especially with national unity and global solidarity, I think it’s possible.”
With more than 17,100 cases and 797 deaths, Japan has avoided the huge coronavirus toll seen in other countries but plans to host the Games in just over a year’s time could be frustrated by more worrying outbreaks in other parts of the world.
The WHO warned on Thursday that the pandemic was far from over, after 106,000 new cases were recorded worldwide in the previous 24 hours – the most in a single day so far.