Japan Olympic Minister: Games Could Be Held Any Time in 2020

March 3, 2020 Updated: March 3, 2020

Japan’s Olympic minister said on Tuesday the contract to hold the Tokyo Games only specifies the event has to be held during 2020.

Seiko Hashimoto’s response to a question in the upper house of parliament implies the Olympics could be held later in the year and would not have to start on July 24 as planned. The Paralympics open on Aug. 25.

The Tokyo Olympics are being threatened by a fast-spreading new coronavirus that has killed 12 people in Japan and has shut down most schools, sports competitions, and Olympic-related events in the country. The virus that started in China has been detected in at least 70 countries.

“The IOC has the right to cancel the games only if they are not held during 2020,” Hashimoto told parliament. “This can be interpreted to mean the games can be postponed as long as they are held during the calendar year.”

Giant Olympic Rings are installed at the waterfront area, with the Rainbow Bridge in the background, Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games, at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Japan, on Jan. 17, 2020. (Issei Kato/Reuters/File Photo)

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach and Tokyo organizers have repeatedly said they expect the Olympics to open on schedule. Others have suggested the spreading virus could force cancellation, postponement or moving events to other cities.

During a scheduled executive board meeting on Tuesday, the IOC issued a statement expressing “full commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, taking place from July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020.”

“The IOC (board) encourages all athletes to continue to prepare (for the games),” the Olympic body said, restating it would “continue to follow the advice of WHO (World Health Organization).”

In an interview last week with only Japanese media, Bach declined to “fuel the flames of speculation” about reports of cancellation or postponement.

Hashimoto was asked if she believed the Olympics should be held even if the coronavirus outbreak is worse than it is now.

“We are making the utmost effort so that we don’t have to face that situation,” she said.

Any decision to move the games back would impact international broadcasters, who would have sway over any changes.

The International Olympic Committee gets 73 percent of its $5.7 billion income in a four-year Olympic cycle from selling broadcast rights. About half of that TV income is from American network NBC.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the Olympic House
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (R) from Germany attends the opening of the executive board meeting of the IOC at the Olympic House in Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 3, 2020. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held in October. But the games have now shifted to summer, largely because it’s the only time slot open for sports broadcasters. North America in the fall is filled with the NFL, college football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. Europe is jammed with soccer in England, Spain, Germany, France, and Italy, not to mention rugby and cricket where those sports are popular.

Former IOC vice president Dick Pound told The Associated Press in an interview last week that a decision about the Olympics probably has to be made in the next several months. Kevan Gosper, another former IOC vice president and now an honorary IOC member, also said cancellation was feasible.

The Olympics have been canceled only three times, all during wartime.

Tokyo organizers on Tuesday were forced to call off a Paralympic wheelchair rugby test event following suggestions from Prime Minister Shizo Abe to hold down large crowd events for several weeks.

Tokyo organizers have 17 test events remaining on their schedule. The last one is to end on May 8. Most are small events featuring only local athletes. The most significant is a gymnastics test on April 4-6 that is expected to have non-Japanese athletes competing.

Japan’s professional baseball league is playing preseason games in stadiums without fans, and the soccer J-League has suspended play until March 18. The famous Tokyo Marathon was held on Sunday with only a few hundred elite runners, instead of a public party for 30,000 participants.

By Yuri Kageyama and Mari Yamaguchi