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Tokyo 2020 chief calms fears over rescheduling of Olympics

Minister dismisses official's claim that Games could be postponed by 2 years

Preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics this summer are going ahead "as scheduled," organisers insisted yesterday, while acknowledging they are "concerned" about the spread of the coronavirus.

Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori made the comments after a member of the organisers' executive board sounded the alarm on the virus outbreak, warning that postponing the Games for two years might be the best option under the circumstances.

But Mori dismissed that option, as did Japanese Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto, who told a parliament committee that postponing or cancelling the Games was "inconceivable".

"Of course we are concerned," Mori said, conceding the outbreak that has infected more than 117,339 people worldwide and caused 4,251 deaths will have some effect on the Games. "I didn't say it won't, I think there will be."

But "as the organising committee, it is only natural for us to move forward with our work as scheduled," Mori added.

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He said the World Health Organization, which has been consulting with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and organisers in Tokyo, was expected to announce its "basic thoughts soon".

Mori's comments came at a hastily organised briefing called after executive board member Haruyuki Takahashi made a splash in interviews warning that preparations should be made for a postponement.

Takahashi told Japan's Asahi Shimbun daily it would be ideal to hold the Olympics as planned but "there has to be an alternative plan".

"The coronavirus has become a global problem. We can't just hold it (the Olympics) because Japan is OK," he told the daily.

He said the summer two years from now "offers the best possibility" for a postponement, given the international sporting calendar, adding that "preparation must start now" if a delay is on the cards.

He insisted that it would be "impossible" to cancel the Games altogether, and said he was speaking out as "a warning bell" for the organising committee, adding that he would raise the issue at a board meeting later this month.

"It needs to face the current situation and consider, with sports associations, measures to take in case of postponement."

Mori said a postponement was impractical, noting that many of the Olympic venues might not be available in 2022.

"This is not something that you can delay one or two years and make it happen," he said.

"Honestly, I thought the statement was out of line," he added of Takahashi's remarks, saying that he had asked him to consider his comments more carefully.

The organisers also distanced themselves from Takahashi's remarks in a statement, adding that he had "given his personal opinion in response to a hypothetical question". - AFP

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