As Coronavirus fears have been all over the news, impacting the stock market and travel to Asia, one story that has comparatively under the radar until now is what will happen with the upcoming summer Olympics in Tokyo. In a frank interview with the AP, Dick Pound, who has been with the IOC for over 40 years, said that late May is the deadline to cancel the games if pandemic fears persist:
"“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Pound said, which would mean putting off a decision until late May and hoping the virus is under control. “A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels, The media folks will be in there building their studios.” And if it got to the point of not going ahead, Pound speculated “you’re probably looking at a cancellation ... This is the new war and you have to face it. In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo, or not?’”"
SBJ reporter Ben Fischer has been hearing the same timeline from sponsors. He tweeted, "Independently of this [IOC interview], several major sponsors told me they’ll have to make decisions about Tokyo plans by about late May. The same three months."
Coronavirus fears have been most pronounced in China, but a Japanese government panel did say that they have had 146 infections of the virus thus far.
While Pound told the AP that “all indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual," the fact that he even gave this interview is a massive story. The Olympics are, obviously, a global event with innumerable moving parts. Just in America, the winter Olympics on NBC comprised 13 of the 100 most watched TV programs of 2018. The summer Olympics are even bigger.
It is also within the realm of possibility that the Olympics could be postponed for a year to let fears cool down, but even that would have incalculable effects on athletes, sponsors, tourists, and media. Hopefully, not just for the sake of the Olympics, the coronavirus gets contained sooner than later.