There is just under five months to go before the scheduled opening of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but now the coronavirus outbreak is threatening to derail what is the world’s largest sporting event. The Olympics are set to open on July 24 with 11,000 athletes and run through Aug. 9. The Paralympics open Aug. 25 with 4,400 participants. There are 7.8 million tickets available for the Olympics and 2.3 million for the Paralympics.
Organizers in Japan and at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Switzerland are currently playing down suggestions that plans for the Games could be altered or even canceled, but sporting events in Japan and elsewhere have already been canceled. Governments are trying to discourage large gatherings in major cities. The Colombian Olympic Committee has already decided not to participate in pre-Olympic training camps in southern Japan.
The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, with at least 2,770 deaths. In Japan, there has been 186 cases and four deaths. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for all of Japan’s schools to close for a month to help combat the spread of the virus. He is also asking organizers to cancel or postpone major sports or cultural events over the next two weeks.
The prospect of a cancellation of the Olympics seems almost unthinkable. The only times the Olympics have ever been canceled outright were in 1916, 1940, and 1944 during the world wars. The Olympics, the Special Olympics, and other mass gatherings proceeded during the outbreaks of Zika and SARS. The World Health Organization says it is currently advising the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics on their options.