Similar to games in years past, Tokyo’s 2020 Summer Olympics will feature sports such as swimming and gymnastics. Baseball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing will also make their debut as Olympic events this summer.
Though the decade-long planning process in Tokyo has gone more smoothly than in previous games, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, has become a serious problem for organizers. There are currently 75,000 confirmed cases of the virus worldwide and 2,000 total deaths recorded. Almost 200 individuals in Japan are infected with the coronavirus, and 700 infected passengers aboard a cruise ship were recently quarantined in Yokohama, Japan.
Several teams from China are currently awaiting decisions on whether they will be allowed to compete in Olympic-qualifying tournaments around the world due to quarantines in parts of China. According to The Japan Times, Olympic officials have also postponed training for about 80,000 volunteers to May in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Health experts are unsure of the outbreak’s possible effects on the games, as it is unclear how the situation will play out in the coming months. According to Politico, some have mentioned that the Olympics were not canceled or postponed in 2016 despite the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil.
These games have already seen some other issues. A significant challenge for organizers has been the issue of Tokyo’s scorching heat and humidity during the late summer months. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) made the decision to move the marathon and race walking events to Sapporo, a city about 500 miles north of Tokyo, when organizers couldn’t guarantee that this problem had a solution.
London Mayor Shaun Bailey recently expressed concern about the virus and announced that London would be willing to host the games this summer if Tokyo is unable.
“We have the infrastructure and the experience. And due to the coronavirus outbreak, the world might need us to step up,” Bailey said in a Tweet.
IOC officials have also expressed concern regarding this issue. Dick Pound, a senior member of the committee, disclosed in an interview with The Associated Press that a decision about whether the Olympics will happen this summer will likely be made in May.
“You’re probably looking at a cancellation if the committee decides that the Tokyo event cannot go on as scheduled,” Pound said. “You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, ‘We’ll do it in October.’”
If the IOC cancels this year’s games, it will be the first time in nearly 80 years that it has made the decision to do so. It would also be the first time ever for an Olympics to be canceled due to any reason other than war. To cancel the games in Tokyo due to a virus would be unprecedented and a landmark decision, but it is currently unclear as to if holding the games in Tokyo is possible at this time.