Abe and Trump talked by phone for about 50 minutes Friday morning, agreeing to “strengthen cooperation” on fighting the novel coronavirus, but did not discuss postponing the Olympics or holding them without spectators, Japanese officials said.
After the call, Trump tweeted that he told Abe “that the just completed Olympic venue is magnificent. He has done an incredible job, one that will make him very proud. Good things will happen for Japan and their great Prime Minister. Lots of options!”
On Thursday, Trump told reporters in the White House that he “just can’t see having no people there,” referring to the Tokyo Games. “I think if you cancel it, make it a year later that’s a better alternative than doing it with no crowd.”
In response, Japan Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto told reporters, “the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and 2020 organisers are not at all considering cancelling or postponing the Games. I’ve heard they are proceeding with preparations for safe and secure Games as planned toward the opening day of July 24.”
Television broadcasters and sponsors have billions invested in the Olympics, and the crowded international sports calendar has little space for pushing the games back a year. Holding the Olympics without fans has been floated, as has simply canceling the Olympics, which has only happened during wartime.
A cancellation or postponement will ripple in thousands of directions, hitting sponsor, television, 11,000 Olympic and 4,400 Paralympic athletes, staffs, airlines, hotels, and $1 billion lost in ticket sales. It also hurts 80,000 unpaid volunteers who will miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
There were 1,387 confirmed infections in Japan, including 697 from a cruise ship that was docked in the port city of Yokohama for several weeks, according to public broadcaster NHK. By Friday morning, the virus had killed 26 in the country, including 7 from the ship, the tally showed.
Japan has sought to quash speculation that the games, which have cost it at least $12 billion in preparations and attracted more than $3 billion in domestic sponsorships, could be cancelled or postponed as the number of people infected has reached 127,000 worldwide.
The outbreak has already crippled global travel and hit Olympic qualifiers and other sports events. Japan has shuttered schools. Public health officials have discouraged large gatherings to curtail the spread of the highly contagious disease, and major football tournaments, National Basketball Association games and other sports have been halted.
The Tokyo 2020 organising committee said it was monitoring the pandemic with the IOC, receiving advice from the World Health Organization, and coordinating with the government and the Tokyo authorities.
Japan’s government and the central bank shared a “strong sense of concern” over how the virus could affect the games. A sponsor representative said the plans were confidential and were not being shared with the companies.
On Thursday, the prelude to the games got underway with the lighting of the Olympic Torch in a scaled-down ceremony behind closed doors. The flame is to arrive in Japan on March 20 and will begin a four-month relay around the country on March 26.
The IOC also says there has not been any talk of cancellation or postponement.
“With the lighting of the Olympic flame in Olympia today, the International Olympic Committee confirms its full commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020,” the IOC said in a statement.
“We remain absolutely in line with our Japanese hosts in our commitment to delivering safe Olympic Games in July this year.”