A man wearing a protective face mask, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks past a Tokyo Olympics 2020 souvenir shop in Tokyo, March 13, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)
Confidence expressed against backdrop of IOC emergency talks
Even as the novel coronavirus spreads rapidly around the world, Japan insists the Olympic Games will go ahead in Tokyo this summer.
Boosting the confidence of Japanese officials is an early indication from the International Olympic Committee, or IOC - which was holding an emergency teleconference on Tuesday - that ways may be explored for ensuring planning at the event.
IOC President Thomas Bach, who was leading the conference call, has been talking with some of the main stakeholders in the Tokyo Games, including representatives from the international federations of the sports involved, plus the national Olympic committees. The talks were due to continue on Wednesday.
Xinhua has been told by sources that the IOC is preparing for the Games to be held as planned, but that some qualifying events cannot be held now.
"There are still four months before the Tokyo Olympics, and I believe we can overcome the epidemic and host the Olympics as scheduled," Xinhua quoted the source as saying.
But the insistence of Japanese officials was put to an added test when Kozo Tashima, vice-president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, tested positive for the virus on Tuesday. Underscoring the safety concerns swirling around the outbreak, the government said the emperor's first overseas trip, to the United Kingdom, may be postponed.
After an unprecedented meeting with fellow Group of Seven leaders by videoconference, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday that the leaders had agreed to support a "complete" Olympics, but avoided comment on the timing of the event. The Games are scheduled for July.
"I want to hold the Olympics and Paralympics perfectly, as proof that the human race will conquer the virus, and I gained support for that from the G7 leaders," Abe said.
When pressed about whether there had been discussion of a delay, Abe repeated that line.
Still, the prime minister's comments have been seen by some as hinting at a postponement, coinciding with an opinion poll that shows most Japanese believe the Games should be delayed.
Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto offered a further interpretation of Abe's words at a news conference hours later. She said a "complete" event referred to holding the Games this summer as scheduled, with spectators present.
Back-up came from Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who on Tuesday dismissed the idea of a delay. None of the global leaders during the videoconference said the Games should be postponed, Suga said.
However, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters that Abe is not so sure.
"He (Abe) doesn't know if he can, but he would," Kudlow said. "He thinks it would be a big question of leadership for the whole world and President Trump wished him luck. We are all behind him on this."
In the opinion poll, conducted by Kyodo, 69.9 percent of the respondents said they do not expect the Games will open as scheduled. A string of major sporting events and competitions around the world have been postponed or canceled. And some have taken place without spectators.
The latest such instance are some final qualifying rounds for boxing at the Tokyo Games. These were suspended on Monday.
The IOC Boxing Task Force said the decision had been made out of the need to "safeguard the well-being of the athletes, officials and all other participants as a top priority".
Regarding the uncertainty about the emperor's upcoming visit to the UK, the Japanese government said it is considering postponing the planned trip by Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, which was due to take place this spring.