TOKYO (REUTERS/BLOOMBERG) - If the Olympics cannot be held in Tokyo this summer due to the global outbreak of the coronavirus, a delay of one or two years would be the most realistic option, a Tokyo Olympic Committee executive board member told the Wall Street Journal.
Haruyuki Takahashi, one of about 25 members of the Japanese organising committee, said in an interview with the paper published on Wednesday (March 10) that the board had not discussed the impact of the virus on the Games, having last met in December, before the epidemic spread.
Takahashi and the organising committee could not immediately be reached for comment.
The financial damage from cancelling the Games or holding them without spectators would be too great, he added, while a delay of less than a year would clash with other major professional sports schedules, according to the paper.
However, his views were rubbished by the Japanese minister responsible for the Games.
"With the star athletes in the middle of preparations for this event - which happens only once every four years - a cancellation or delay to the Tokyo Games is inconceivable," Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto said in a parliamentary committee. "A delay is not under consideration."
She did, however, acknowledge that the final decision rests with the International Olympic Committee. She herself is a former Olympic athlete who appeared in multiple Summer and Winter Games.
The remarks are the latest in a series of back-and-forth statements between the various groups involved in organising the 2020 Games.
Ms Hashimoto said earlier this month a delay was theoretically possible, leading IOC president Thomas Bach to deny any discussion of a delay or cancellation had taken place.
Another official, Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, also said on Wednesday that his team was not considering changing plans for the Games and that the board member who had suggested a delay because of the coronavirus had apologised.
"It is our basic stance that we press ahead with preparation for a safe and secure Olympics," he told reporters. "Therefore we are not at all thinking about changing courses or plans."
Japan has reported nearly 1,300 cases, including about 700 from a cruise ship that was quarantined near Tokyo last month. On Tuesday, it saw the biggest number of infections in a single day, of 59 cases, according to public broadcaster NHK.
With every new spike in the figures, speculation has swirled that the Tokyo 2020 Games, due to open on July 24, could be cancelled, delayed, or held without spectators, like many pre-Olympic qualifiers and other unrelated sports events have been in the run-up.
It has taken increasingly bold steps to attempt to contain the coronavirus but as the virus spreads across multiple nations, the decision may no longer rest on the state of the contagion in the country.
Japan has previously said the end of May may mark a key stage for a decision. The Olympic Games have not been cancelled since the summer of 1944, when they were called off due to World War II.
Experts say a one-year postponement to the same time next year would pose major logistical problems but was doable for broadcasters because it fits into their generally open summer schedule.
The new coronavirus has infected more than 116,000 people and killed more than 4,000 around the world since it surfaced in China late last year.