People wait in line to take pictures with the Olympic rings near the New National Stadium. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo
People wait in line to take pictures with the Olympic rings near the New National Stadium. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

Japan continue Olympics plans as coronavirus disrupts sport

By Takehiko Kambayashi and Barry Whelan, dpa Time of article published Feb 26, 2020

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BERLIN/TOKYO  Japan on Wednesday vowed to continue preparing to host this year's Olympics as the outbreak of the coronavirus caused further disruption to international sport.

In Tokyo, Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto dismissed comments by an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member suggesting the outbreak could lead to the Games being cancelled.

"All we can do is to prepare to host the Games with peace of mind and to be recognized by the IOC," she said.

The latest international sports event to be scrapped is the short-track speedskating world championships in Seoul, South Korea from March 13-15.

It comes a day after South Korea saw the postponement of the world team table tennis championships in Busan from March 22-29 to the provisional dates of June 21-28.

The Chinese Under-18 basketball team meanwhile called off its participation in a tournament in Germany in April and its place will be taken by Slovenia.

The German Open international badminton tournament next week in Muelheim an der Ruhr was also called off Wednesday.

Alpine ski World Cup races are, however, to go ahead in northern Italy at the weekend despite the outbreak of the coronavirus in northern regions of the country, the international ski federation FIS.

A women's super-g race is scheduled Saturday and an alpine combined event on Sunday at La Thuile in the Alps in the extreme north-west close to the border with France.

The coronavirus outbreak is playing havoc with the international sports calendar. Many sports have now cancelled, suspended or postponed events, leading to questions on the viability of the Tokyo Olympics.

The IOC's longest-serving member, Dick Pound, said in an interview with the Associated Press that was published on Tuesday the outbreak could lead to the cancellation of the Olympics. The IOC has a three-month window to decide the fate of the 2020 Games, he said.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said Pound's comments were "personal views."

"I have emails from IOC members in charge of the Tokyo Olympics telling me to work hard in preparing for the event," she told reporters.

About 11,000 athletes are expected to participate in the Olympics from July 24 to August 9. The Paralympics kick off on August 25.

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told a news conference, "I have not heard anything about changes in schedules from the organizers. We would like to steadily prepare to host the Games."

The coronavirus outbreak that originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan has killed more than 2,700 people and infected more than 80,000 worldwide.

On Wednesday, Japan reported more confirmed cases of the infection, raising the total to 891, including 705 on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked organizers of big sports and cultural events to cancel or postpone them for the next two weeks.

"The next two weeks is crucial for Japan to prevent the spread of the outbreak," the premier said.

In Italy, which has reported a major increase in new coronavirus cases, the country's sports federation and local organizers said they saw no grounds to call off the weekend World Cup skiing.

However, as a precautionary measure fewer spectators than usual will be permitted at the Alpine venue. Team members will be under constant medical supervision, FIS said.

The World Cup season's final race week from March 18 to 22 in Cortina d'Ampezzo could prove a greater problem. The Italian ski resort is closer to the worst-affected regions and is expected to attract thousands of spectators.

Football has already been affected by the outbreak in northern Italian regions.

Inter Milan's Europa League last-32 home match against Ludogorets on Thursday will be played behind closed doors because of fears about the possible spread of the virus.

Inter were one of four Serie A clubs to have their home games postponed last weekend. Five Serie A matches will be played behind closed doors this weekend - including the top match between leaders Juventus at home to third.placed Inter.

In rugby union, Six Nations officials says they are "monitoring" the situation in Italy, where England are due to play on March 14.

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris has meanwhile said Ireland's Six Nations game against Italy in Dublin on March 7 should be postponed.

Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) chief executive Phillip Brown said it "would be more than happy" to cancel ther match if it receives a clear directive from the government, RTE reported.

Elsewhere this week, Japan's J-League postponed all domestic games until the middle of March.

European football body UEFA said it was also monitoring the virus outbreak with a view to any possible ramifications for Euro 2020, which is being played in 12 European countries including Italy this summer.

The opening match of the tournament is in Rome on June 12, and the Italian capital is hosting two further group-stage matches and a quarter-final.

Earlier this month, Formula One postponed the Chinese Grand Prix scheduled in Shanghai in April. The race was the fourth of the season following the season-opening Australian GP on March 15, Bahrain a week later and an inaugural race in Vietnam.

There are still uncertainties around the Vietnam race in Hanoi on April 5, and Bahrain is also coming under scrutiny after reporting more cases of the virus linked to the outbreak in neighbouring Iran.


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