US president Donald Trump suggested the Tokyo Olympics should be postponed amid the spread of the deadly coronavirus, as the events’ organisers denied they were considering changing the start planned for July 24.
“I would say maybe they postpone it for a year,” Trump told reporters when asked his opinion on the arrangements for the event. “I like that better than having empty stadiums all over the place,” he added. Trump said he does not plan on making the recommendation to Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.
There’s growing concern that the pandemic sweeping the globe might force the first cancellation of an Olympic Games since World War Two. Major sports including NBA basketball, European football and even Japan’s sumo have either called off matches or barred spectators from watching play to stem the spread of the virus.
The International Olympic Committee and host nation Japan are holding the line that the Tokyo Games will begin as planned. Japan’s Organising Committee issued a statement late on Thursday in response to Trump’s comments, saying that it was continuing with preparations as scheduled.
Seiko Hashimoto, Japan’s Olympics minister, told reporters on Friday in Tokyo she was aware of Trump’s comments but the plan remained to hold the Games from July. “The government will step up its efforts, in close cooperation with the IOC and the Organizing Committee, to enable the preparations to go ahead to stage the games as planned.”
But the risks of bringing hundreds of thousands of athletes, officials and spectators together in one city for the world’s biggest multi-sports event are growing ever more apparent after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic. If the Games cannot be held as planned, some have speculated it may be best to move them to a later date or play them behind closed doors.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to talk with Trump by phone Friday morning, Kyodo News of Japan reported.