Official: Olympics going ahead as planned

TOKYO -- A spokesman for the Japanese government on Wednesday said the International Olympic Committee and local organizers are going ahead as planned with the Tokyo Olympics despite the threat of the spreading coronavirus.

The comments from spokesman Yoshihide Suga follow the assertion by IOC veteran member Richard Pound that organizers face a three-month window to decide the fate of the Games.

The Olympics are set to open July 24 with 11,000 athletes. The Paralympics open Aug. 25 with 4,400.

Pound told The Associated Press that the fast-spreading virus could force the cancellation of the Olympics. Suga said Pound's opinion does not reflect the official view of the IOC, which has repeatedly said there are no plans to cancel or postpone the Tokyo Games.

Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto also abruptly called a news conference late Wednesday afternoon to address Pound's comments.

"Our basic thoughts are that we will go ahead with the Olympic and Paralympic Games as scheduled," Muto said, speaking in Japanese. "For the time being, the situation of the coronavirus infection is, admittedly, difficult to predict, but we will take measures such that we'll have a safe Olympic and Paralympic Games."

Elite swimmer Katinka Hosszu expressed her concern over a possible Olympic cancellation in an interview with the AP on Wednesday.

"For the athletes, the best [solution] is just to focus on your preparation. ... I see the news, but in my mind I'm prepared until it's on. So I have to be ready," said Hosszu, whose nickname is "The Iron Lady."

"I really can't even imagine having the Olympics canceled. For athletes, it's a nightmare," Hosszu added. "That's our life -- preparing for the biggest event in swimming."

The viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700 globally. China has reported 2,715 deaths among 78,064 cases on the mainland. Five deaths in Japan have been attributed to the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes.

"With regard to this member's comment, the IOC has responded that this is not their official position and that the IOC is proceeding with preparations toward the Games as scheduled," Suga said, speaking in Japanese at his daily news conference.

Pound is a former IOC vice president and a member since 1978, and he was the founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency. He also represented Canada as a swimmer at the Olympics.

In a telephone interview from Montreal, Pound said the IOC has a three-month window to decide and suggested that other options like moving events or postponing them seemed less likely.

"In and around that time," he said, "I'd say folks are going to have to ask: 'Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo?'"

If the IOC decides the Games cannot go forward as scheduled in Tokyo, "You're probably looking at a cancellation," said Pound, who repeated the IOC's stance that as of now the Games are on.

The three-month window also goes for sponsors and television broadcasters who need to firm up planning. Not to mention travelers, athletes and fans with 7.8 million tickets available for the Olympics and 2.3 million for the Paralympics.

As the Games draw near, Pound said, "a lot of things have to start happening. You've got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels. The media folks will be in there building their studios."

The threat of the virus seems to be growing.

At a government task force meeting Wednesday on the virus outbreak, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was asking organizers to cancel or postpone major sports or cultural events over the next two weeks.

"The next one to two weeks is extremely important for the prevention of the escalation of the infection," Abe said. "We ask organizers to cancel, postpone or scale down the size of such events."

He did not name specific events but said he was speaking about nationwide events that attract large crowds.

Muto declined to speculate about the future condition of the virus.

"I don't think I can talk based on presumptions over what might happen months ahead," Muto said. "The prime minister has announced measures to be taken over the next two weeks and so we, too, are taking that into consideration. The biggest problem would be if this novel coronavirus infections spreads far and wide, so the most important thing to do is to take measures to prevent that from happening."

Muto said the torch relay would go ahead. It is to start in Japan on March 26 in Fukushima prefecture, located 150 miles northeast of Tokyo.

"We absolutely do not think of canceling [the torch relay]," Muto said. "We'd like to think about how to implement it while preventing the spread of infection, including scaling down, or other ways."

Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto, speaking in parliament, said, "We believe it is necessary to make a worst-case scenario in order to improve our operation to achieve success." She added plans were being made "so that we can safely hold the Tokyo Olympics."

Also Wednesday, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that that Colombian Olympic Committee has decided not to participate in pre-Olympic training camps in southern Japan.