Despite growing concerns while the novel coronavirus looms from country to country, Tokyo 2020 organizers are holding steadfast to not cancel the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
With less than 180 days until Tokyo lights up the cauldron to start the 16th Summer Paralympic Games, concern continues to build in the host nation of Japan, and world health experts are anxious over the possibility of novel coronavirus being at the games.
In a press conference on Feb. 26, by Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee CEO Toshiro Muto says as of now, the games will move forward as planned.
“Our basic thoughts are that we will go ahead with the Olympic and Paralympic Games as scheduled,” Muto says, “For the time being, the situation of the novel coronavirus infection is, admittedly, difficult to predict, but we will take measures such that we’ll have a safe Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
An additional written statement obtained from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) says the plans are full steam ahead to have the games no matter what the case.
“Preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games continue as planned. Countermeasures against infectious diseases constitute an important part of Tokyo 2020’s plans to host a safe and secure Games,” the IPC says. “Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with all relevant organizations which carefully monitor any incidence of infectious diseases and will review any countermeasures that may be necessary with all relevant organizations. In addition, the IPC is in contact with the World Health Organization, as well as its own medical experts.”
Despite plans to move forward with the games, the novel coronavirus already has major health networks and organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) scrambling about what to do in case the outbreak grows into a pandemic during late August and early September.
WHO was contacted about its view of the novel coronavirus outbreak and responded stating it is not the role of the World Health Organization to call off the plans for both the Paralympic or Olympic Games.
“WHO works closely with countries and international organizations that plan mass gatherings to provide rational and science-based public health guidance and recommendations when preparing for mass gatherings, as well as recommendations on measures during and after gatherings so that risks can be managed and mitigated. The guidance can help inform organizations and countries’ risk assessment and support on any potential health impact.”
WHO will have to take into account the effect that the illness could have on Paralympians, as the virus could be very dangerous to some para athletes with limited mobility, according to a statement written by email from the CDC.
“Respiratory illnesses such as flu or [novel coronavirus] are particularly dangerous for people who may have trouble with muscle function, lung function or difficulty coughing, swallowing or clearing fluids from their airways. Serious complications can include pneumonia, secondary bacterial infections that can lead to blood infections (sepsis), and sudden difficulties breathing (acute respiratory distress syndrome).”
One view from a high-ranking official which contradicts the majority of Tokyo 2020 organizers is the opinion of International Olympic Committee (IOC) board member Dick Pound. On Feb 25, Pound told the AP’s Stephen Wade there is currently a two-month window open until May to cancel the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“By and large you’re looking at a cancellation,” Pound says. “This is the new war, and you have to face it. In and around their folks are going to have to say, ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident of going to Tokyo or not?’”
Japan’s Olympic Minister, Seiko Hashimoto provided another possible option for Olympic/Paralympic scheduling during a Parliament meeting on Mar. 3. Hashimoto pointed out that the contract between the city of Tokyo and the International Olympic Committee states the games only has to be held within the year 2020. The Implications of that statement means if it had to, the contract could allow a postponement in the games until later in the year.
One organization that is taking no chances with player and technical official safety during the spread of novel coronavirus is the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF). On Mar. 4, the Federation cancelled EuroLeague and Champions League events and games the scheduled for the weekend of Mar. 12-15.
Whatever the decision is by organizers, it will need to come soon with growing health concerns mounting over the novel coronavirus. According to CDC estimates, as of the first week in March, over 92,000 people worldwide have already been infected and the virus and is the cause of 3,000 deaths worldwide. As of Mar. 3, Japan reported 283 cases of the virus and six deaths.
For more information on the novel coronavirus and tips about how to prevent transmission, visit CDC.gov