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Fate of Olympics will not be decided until May

Games under threat as more than 2,600 deaths, 77,000 infections linked to fast-spreading virus.

Flame is still burning - for now.
Flame is still burning - for now.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

DICK POUND, THE longest-serving member of the IOC, estimates there’s a three-month window to decide the fate of the Tokyo Olympics, which are being threatened by the fast-spreading COVID-19.

Pound, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, did not sound alarmist. But he did speak frankly about the risks facing the Olympics, which open on 24 July.

Pound has been an International Olympic Committee member since 1978, 13 years longer than current president Thomas Bach.

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?”‘

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China on Tuesday reported 508 new cases of infection and another 71 deaths — 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the new coronavirus was first detected in December. The updates bring mainland China’s totals to 77,658 cases of infection and 2,663 deaths. South Korea now has the second-most cases in the world with 977, including 10 deaths.

Clusters of the illness are now appearing in the Middle East and Europe. This could signal a new stage in the spread of the virus, with four deaths reported in Japan as of Tuesday.

Pound encouraged athletes to keep training. About 11,000 are expected for the Olympics, and another 4,400 for the Paralympics, which open on Aug. 25.

“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.”

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Garry Doyle

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