Postponing 2020 Olympics may become inevitable: Japan PM Abe

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TOKYO
Postponing the 2020 Olympics ‘may become inevitable’ if the new coronavirus outbreak makes it impossible to hold the Games safely, Japan’s prime minister said Monday. Shinzo Abetold parliamentthat Japan was still committed to a ‘complete’ Games, but added: ‘if that becomes difficult, in light of considering athletes first, it may become inevitable that we make a decision to postpone.’ The comments were his first acknowledging the possibility that the Games may not open as scheduled on July 24 as the coronavirus continues to spread across the world. Overnight, the International Olympic Committee also shifted its tone on the Games, saying it would step up planning for different scenarios, including postponement. ‘Cancellation is not an option,’ Abe said, echoing comments from IOC chief Thomas Bach, who ruled out scrapping the Games, saying it ‘would not solve any problem and would help nobody’. The IOC is responsible for making any final decision on the Games, and has come under increasing pressure from athletes and sports associations worldwide asthe coronavirus crisis grows. The death toll from the virus — which has upended lives and closed businesses and schools acrossthe planet — surged to more than 14,300 Sunday, according to anAFPtally. Canada pulled out of theTokyo Olympics over coronavirus fears as Japan’s primeminister Monday admitted a delay may be ‘inevitable’ andthe InternationalOlympic Committee said a decision should come within weeks. Australia also told its athletes to prepare for a Tokyo Olympics in 2021 as expectations grew that the Games — scheduled to start on July 24 — would be postponed as the virus crisis convulses the globe. Japanese and Olympic officials had stuck resolutely to the line that the Summer Games will go ahead on time, but criticism from athletes and sports bodies has swelled to a crescendo in recent days. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliamentthat Japan was still committed to a ‘complete’ Games, but added: ‘If that becomes difficult, in light of considering athletes first, it may become inevitable that we make a decision to postpone.’ It was the second major concession in a matter of hours afterthe IOC said ‘the scenario of postponement’ was one of the options under consideration, with a final decision due within four weeks. ‘Human lives take precedence over everything, includingthe staging ofthe Games,’ IOC president Thomas Bach wrote in an open letter to athletes after emergency talks. ‘Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody,’Bach added. ‘Therefore it is not on our agenda.’ Athletes and sports bodies have become increasingly vocal after restrictions imposed because of COVID-19trashed competition schedules and oftenmadetrainingimpossible — and risky. Canada highlighted the dangers to the broader community asthey became the first team to withdraw from the Olympics and Paralympics, urging a year’s postponement. ‘This is not solely about athlete health—itis about public health,’ the Canadian Olympic Committee said. ‘WithCOVID-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes—APP