Speaking to Japan’s Nikkan Sports daily, Yoshiro Mori described COVID-19 as “fighting an invisible enemy” and admitted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo organizers could not afford another postponement.
“In that case, it’s canceled,” Mori said when asked whether the Games could be delayed by a further 12 months, should coronavirus still be a threat next year.
Last month, the IOC and Tokyo’s organizing committee took the unprecedented decision of postponing the Games by 12 months in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and mounting criticism of the way it handled its pandemic response.
In a joint statement issued on March 24, the IOC and Tokyo organizing committee said the Games “must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”
Originally scheduled to be held in Tokyo between July 24 and August 9 this year, the Games will instead take place from July 23 to August 8 2021.
With the exception of the two world wars, the Olympics have never been canceled or postponed since they began in their modern guise in 1896.
Mori’s comments came on the same day the head of Japan Medical Association admitted holding the Games next year could be incredibly difficult, unless a vaccine is found.
“I would not say that they should not be held, but it would be exceedingly difficult,” Yoshitake Yokokura told reporters, as per AFP.
“I’m not saying at this point that they shouldn’t be held. The outbreak is not only confined to Japan […] it’s a worldwide issue.”
Mori, however, insisted the Games will be held next year if the outbreak is brought under control.
“We’ll hold the Olympics in peace next summer”, he added. “Mankind is betting on it.”
Despite the rapid spread of COVID-19 around the world, the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organizing committee had repeatedly insisted the Games would go ahead as planned this summer.
The stance, however, changed swiftly toward the end of last month amid mounting criticism from athletes and a number of national Olympic committees, including the U.S. and Canada.
While the decision to postpone the Games was met with approval by athletes, the delay is expected to have a major impact on the Japanese economy.
According to official figures, Japan has committed 1.45 trillion yen ($13.4 billion) to organizing the Olympics, with $277 million alone spent on building a new Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.
“Even if the Olympic Games is deferred until next year, there is likely to be an economic impact in terms of fewer visitors due to higher global unemployment rate as a result of the economic impact of the current crisis,” Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, told Newsweek before the announcement of the postponement was made.
“There may also be a reluctance to travel to the region due to concerns about the proximity of China, and any residual effects from the virus.”
As of Tuesday morning, over 13,600 cases and 385 deaths have been reported in Japan, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.
Over 211,000 people have died globally since the outbreak of coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, a city located in China’s central Hubei province, late last year. There have been over three million confirmed cases globally and almost 895,000 recoveries.
Newsweek has contacted the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee for comment.