Japanese prime minister hopeful of hosting Olympics ‘without a hitch’
Speculation regarding the likelihood of the Games going ahead remains rife as the coronavirus crisis worsens across the world but Japanese organisers and officials have continued to insist it is business as usual.
The Olympics are due to take place between July 24 and August 9.
At a press conference reported by Kyodo News, Abe said: “We hope to overcome the spread of infections first and foremost and hold the Olympics as planned without a hitch.”
Japan has had more than 1,400 cases of coronavirus but has avoided the spikes seen in other countries.
Global elite sport has been largely shut down until at least the end of March, with a number of Olympic qualifying events affected.
The Olympic torch was lit without spectators in Greece this week but the rest of the relay was called off to avoid attracting large crowds.
The Japanese leg of the relay is due to begin in Fukushima on March 26, and Abe expects that to go ahead.
He said: “The Olympic flame will arrive in Japan. I’d like to go to Fukushima to witness the start of the Olympic torch relay.”
The Olympic torch relay in Greece was cancelled on Friday 13 March – just a day after the flame was lit in Olympia.
Large crowds mobbed Hollywood actor Gerard Butler as he lit the cauldron in the Greek city of Sparta on Friday despite repeated warnings for spectators not to attend because of coronavirus.
That forced the decision by the Greek Olympic Committee to halt the torch relay on Greek soil on just the second day of its scheduled eight-day journey.
The Olympic flame will still be handed over to the Tokyo 2020 organising committee at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens on Thursday but without fans. It is the only the third time that a relay to Athens for the summer Games has not been completed.
The scale of the outbreak in Japan saw senior International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound describe the disease as ‘the new war’ threatening Tokyo 2020 and he warned the Games may have to be cancelled if the virus was still around by May.
The Japanese government later insisted Pound’s comments were not the IOC’s official stance but there remain doubts over whether the summer showcase can still go ahead with health concerns.
Athletes have been told to keep training and the plan remains to hold the Games in Japan as planned but training for around 80,000 volunteers has been delayed for at least two months- it was due to begin on February 22.
On Friday, March 13; President Donald Trump’s suggestion to postpone the Tokyo Olympics for a year because of the spreading coronavirus was immediately shot down by Japan’s Olympic minister.
‘The IOC and the organising committee are not considering cancellation or a postponement – absolutely not at all,’ Seiko Hashimoto, an Olympic bronze medalist, told a news conference in Tokyo.
The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organisers have stayed on message since the viral outbreak in China three months ago spread across Asia and then the globe: The games will open as scheduled on July 24.
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