Coronavirus Raises Questions About 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

Feb 28, 2020 - 2:07 PM

Amid daily reports of the spread of novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, the respiratory disease originating in the Chinese province of Hubei, top officials are continuing to plan for the 2020 Olympic Games to begin as scheduled in Tokyo on July 24. Equestrian competition is slated to begin with dressage on July 25.

World Health Organization officials confirmed on Feb. 27 that they are coordinating with the Games’ organizers and providing risk assessment and management advice. Dr. Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, told reporters on a call, “To my understanding, no decision has or will be taken in the near term regarding the future of the Olympics.”

Ryan added that previous Games had gone forward during outbreaks of the Zika and SARS viruses.

Will Connell, USEF Director of Sport Programs, said Friday, Feb. 28, that preparation for the Games in Tokyo is on schedule.

“At the moment, the Olympics are on, and that’s what we’re focused on,” he said. “If anything changes, then we’ll react accordingly. We’re monitoring what the experts are saying around the coronavirus. Like everyone else, we track the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the World Health Organization, and we get regular updates from the FEI and the [U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee]. That is where we are at present.”

Connell added that with regard to international competitions, FEI delegates meet with members of the International Olympic Committee to discuss potential implications.

“From our side [at USEF], of course we’re watching on a daily basis, but at the moment it’s business as usual,” he said.

IOC president Thomas Bach told the Japanese press earlier this week that the IOC is “fully committed” to holding the Games on schedule.

On Wednesday, senior IOC member Dick Pound told the AP that canceling the Games, rather than postponing or moving them, would likely be the only option if the coronavirus became too great a threat to public health. He also reiterated that the IOC would rely on consultations with WHO in making any decisions.

“As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo,” Pound said. “All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.”

Connell noted that the Longines Masters of Hong Kong, originally scheduled for Feb. 14-16, had been canceled due to coronavirus concerns. He added that athletes, like any other individuals, should follow travel advice given to the general public.

“Of course, when people are due to travel to affected areas, then they have to follow the advice of WHO, CDC, and the State Department, etc.,” he said. “It’s not that we are denying any advice, but at the moment, we don’t have any competitions on our radar that would fall within the affected areas.

“Internally we can work through ‘What ifs?’ but currently there are no ‘What ares’; everything is on track,” Connell continued. “This is obviously a serious outbreak, but our role is to stay focused on the advice that is being given by the experts. We’ll react accordingly if things change.”

Japan has reported over 200 cases of novel coronavirus, in addition to more than 700 infected passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in port at Yokohama.

The most recent post on the USOC/TeamUSA website’s coronavirus updates page stated Feb. 27: “Looking ahead to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, we continue to prepare in earnest to support the U.S. delegations this summer. With less than 150 days to the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, we remain 100% focused on maintaining our high standards of Games preparedness.”

The Olympic Games have been canceled three times, once during World War I and twice during World War II, and the United States and many other nations boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow for political reasons. An alternate equestrian competition was held that year at Fontainebleau, France.

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