A member of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee’s executive board told The Wall Street Journal that the Olympics would most likely be postponed by one or two years if they could not go on as scheduled, due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Haruyuki Takahashi, who is one of the executive board’s 25 members, told the newspaper in an article published Tuesday that other alternatives — such as holding the Games without spectators or canceling them altogether — would have significant financial ramifications, which makes a postponement the most likely alternative.
“I don’t think the Games could be canceled. It’d be a delay,” Takahashi told The Wall Street Journal. “The International Olympic Committee would be in trouble if there’s a cancellation. American TV rights alone provide them with a huge amount.”
Spokespeople for Tokyo 2020 did not immediately respond to an email from USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday seeking additional information.
The IOC and the organizing committee have repeatedly said the Tokyo Olympics will go on as planned, beginning July 24. And officials from both groups avoided publicly discussing any possible contingency plans for the Tokyo Olympics, to the point of claiming that a final decision on the Games has already been made.
“And the decision is that the Games go ahead,” IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said at a news conference in Lausanne, Switzerland last week. “That was made some time ago. We see no reason to change that decision.”
According to the World Health Organization, there were more than 109,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, across 104 countries as of Monday. More than 3,800 people have died from the virus, including at least seven people in Japan.
The spread of coronavirus has already had a significant impact on international sports around the world. In Italy, the government has suspended all sporting events through April 3 at the recommendation of the Italian Olympic Committee. In Japan, preseason baseball games have been played in empty stadiums. And in the United States, professional sports leagues have altered media access protocols and discouraged athletes from signing autographs with fans.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee also announced Monday that it has postponed a Team USA media summit that was scheduled for next week because of the coronavirus.
Any change to the Olympic Games, however, would have implications of a completely different magnitude.
A postponement of one or two years, as Takahashi mentioned, would cause massive ripple effects throughout the international sporting calendar. And any adjustment would have serious financial implications, as well.
NBC, which owns the Olympic broadcasting rights in the United States, announced last week that it has already secured $1.25 billion in advertising revenue ahead of this summer’s Olympics. And Tokyo organizers have said they are spending $12.6 billion on the Games, though the final cost will likely be significantly higher.
SMBC Nikko Securities Inc., a Japanese securities firm, estimated in a report that canceling the Olympics would reduce Japan’s annual gross domestic product growth by 1.4%.
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.