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After IOC bends, Japan finally starts to plan for Olympics postponement

“What we are going to do before anything else is to start by simulating about whether we postpone one month, three months, five months, one year,” Mori said. “We need to make a simulation about the various scenarios.”

Japan had insisted until now that the Games must go ahead, although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last week the priority must be to hold the Olympics in a “complete manner.”

On Monday, he told parliament this might mean the dates would have to change.

“If that is difficult, we would have no choice but to decide to postpone, with athletes as the first priority,” Abe said, underlining that an outright cancellation is not an option.

Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto said she was “glad to hear” that the IOC did not believe cancellation is an option.

Mori said the IOC and Japan would like to “closely examine” the various scenarios open to them over the next four weeks, adding that they would not start with the assumption the Games would definitely have to be postponed but couldn’t avoid discussing that possibility.

For each scenario, organizers would have to work out whether they could still secure the Olympic venues for all 33 sports, as well as for the Paralympics, and what the costs would be.

“We have to go through each of them one by one,” Mori said. “Considering just these things alone would take an enormous time.”

Mori hinted that organizers would prefer to keep the Olympics within this calendar year when he said: “We are 2020, so that is the direction for now.”

But Mori and Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto stressed that the cancellation was not in the cards, and they were happy to have heard the same message from the IOC.

“Probably, the IOC was thinking that cancellation would not be desirable for athletes and all the stakeholders,” Muto said. “And this is what we have been saying all along. We totally agree with that.”

Japan’s official budget for the Games is around $12.6 billion, but some estimates suggest the total cost could be twice that amount.

In recent days, athletes and sporting organizations around the world have joined a growing chorus for the Games to be postponed on the grounds of health concerns but also because of the problems involved in training and the uncertainty generated by the pandemic.

It has also become increasingly clear that bringing together millions of people from all over the world to watch the Games could have a disastrous impact on efforts to combat the virus.

But postponement would be an enormously complicated undertaking, involving serious knock-on effects on the global sporting calendar and forcing broadcasters to renegotiate with advertisers.

There are also doubts about the availability of some venues, including the Olympic Village, where hundreds of apartments have been sold by a consortium of real estate developers for occupancy after the Games, as well as the need to secure the planned media headquarters at the Tokyo Big Sight, a tightly booked conference center.

For now, organizers say they will push ahead with the torch relay, which is due to start on Thursday in Fukushima in northeastern Japan and is meant to symbolize Japan’s recovery from a 2011 tsunami and nuclear accident in the area. Mori said the prime minister was unsure if he would attend the start of the relay, as the government wanted to discourage crowds forming, although Mori said he himself would attend.

Mori acknowledged the relay route may need to be modified and said organizers were studying how it should be held given the fast-changing situation with the virus.

Tens of thousands of people flocked to a stadium in Sendai north of Tokyo to see the Olympic flame burning in a cauldron over the weekend after it arrived from Greece.

“We had a turnout nearly 10 times that we had estimated,” Muto said.

Muto said organizers should be happy with the turnout “in and of itself” but had placed risk as their top priority and has changed arrangements so people simply passed by the flame without a crowd forming.

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