Olympics: Tokyo 2020 chief Muto does not rule out 11th-hour cancellation of Games

Toshiro Muto said he would keep an eye on infection numbers and hold discussions with organisers if necessary. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS, AFP) - The head of the organising committee for the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday (July 20) did not rule out a last-minute cancellation of the global sporting showpiece, amid rising coronavirus cases that have presented organisers with mounting challenges.

Asked at a news conference if the Games, which are due to open on Friday, might still be cancelled, Mr Toshiro Muto said he would keep an eye on infection numbers and hold discussions with organisers, if necessary.

"We can't predict what will happen with the number of coronavirus cases. So, we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases," he said.

"We have agreed that based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again. At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises."

Games officials on Sunday reported the first coronavirus case among competitors in the village in Tokyo where 11,000 athletes are expected to stay. There have been 67 cases detected among those accredited for the Games since July 1, organisers said on Tuesday.

But with thousands of athletes, officials and journalists already in Japan, including those from Singapore, it remains to be seen whether Mr Muto's remarks are a case of political posturing.

Mr Muto, a former top financial bureaucrat with close ties to Japan's ruling party, is known for his careful choice of words.

Organisers, including the government, are facing a domestic public angry about coronavirus restrictions and concerned over a possible spike in cases triggered by Games attendees arriving from abroad.

Mr Muto's comments come just hours after International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who addressed the IOC session in Tokyo, insisted that "cancellation was never an option for us".

"The IOC never abandons the athletes... we did it for the athletes," he said, though he also admitted that the unprecedented step of postponing the Games had proved more complicated than he thought and that he had had "doubts" and "sleepless nights".

Olympic and Japanese officials have staunchly defended the Games, which are being held in a strict bio-secure "bubble" with daily testing. Eighty per cent of athletes at the Games have been vaccinated.

World Health Organisation (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who will address IOC members in Tokyo on Wednesday, said in a Tokyo Olympics Twitter message that Covid-19 can be defeated if everyone plays their part.

"Glad to be in Japan to address the International Olympic Committee," he said in his tweet. "I've come with a simple but urgent message: We can defeat Covid-19, but only if everyone plays their part.

"May these Tokyo 2020 Olympics be a source of hope and unity to achieve vaccine equity and end the pandemic."

The WHO has advised Japanese organisers and the IOC on health measures to be taken by participants and at venues during the July 23-Aug 8 event.

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But Covid-19 cases are rising in Tokyo and the Games will be held without spectators. Japan this month decided that participants would compete in empty venues to minimise the risk of further infections.

The opening ceremony will also take place without major Olympic sponsors, the companies said on Tuesday, dealing another blow to a slimmed-down Games as more athletes tested positive for the coronavirus.

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