The International Olympic Committee said Sunday it will assess a postponement of the Tokyo Olympics over four weeks of talks amid mounting criticism by athletes and sports officials about the prospect of holding the event during the coronavirus pandemic, APA reports citing Kyodo News.
In response, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday during a parliamentary session that postponing the Tokyo Olympic Games may become an option if holding the event in its "complete form" became impossible.
Tokyo Olympic organizing committee President Yoshiro Mori said at a press conference later Monday he supports the IOC's decision to review the existing plan to hold the Tokyo Olympics from July 24.
Abe said that safety and security of the athletes will be given the highest priority before a final decision is made by the IOC, while saying that cancellation is not on the agenda.
But on Monday, a number of national sporting authorities ramped up the pressure, with the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees announcing they will not send teams to the Tokyo Games if they go ahead this summer as scheduled.
Soon after, the Australian Olympic Committee released a statement saying it has recommended its athletes start preparing for an Olympics "in the northern summer of 2021."
The IOC released a statement after its Executive Board met on Sunday.
"To safeguard the health of all involved and to contribute to the containment of COVID-19, the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee today announced that the IOC will step up its scenario-planning for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020," the international body said.
"These scenarios relate to modifying existing operational plans for the games to go ahead on 24 July 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the games," the statement said.
Japan's Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto and Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto confirmed Monday the dates for the torch relay, which is set to begin on Thursday in Fukushima Prefecture, have not yet been moved.
Tokyo organizing committee President Yoshiro Mori said, however, that a decision on whether to modify or cancel the relay will be made in the comings days. Mori also said that Abe is unlikely to attend the opening ceremony on Thursday.
The International Paralympic Committee also reacted to the possible postponement of the Olympic Games, saying it "will support the IOC every step of the way."
The IOC set a four-week decision deadline for the 2020 summer Olympics.
"This step will allow better visibility of the rapidly changing development of the health situation around the world and in Japan. It will serve as the basis for the best decision in the interests of the athletes and everyone else involved," the IOC said.
"There is a dramatic increase in cases and new outbreaks of COVID-19 in different countries on different continents, the statement said, adding this led the Executive Board to conclude that the IOC needs to take the next step in its scenario planning.
Questions were being raised about Japan's willingness to consider changing plans for the Olympics and Paralympics this summer as the coronavirus spread continued and as other large sporting leagues and events halted or postponed their plans.
The IOC said in the statement, "The IOC Executive Board emphasized that a cancellation of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would not solve any of the problems or help anybody. Therefore, cancellation is not on the agenda."
According to a statement released by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the IOC is gathering information from national Olympic committees about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on training for the Tokyo Games.
The statement was made in response to an appeal from USA Swimming, the governing body of competitive swimming in the United States, to postpone the Tokyo Games for one year. USA Track and Field, the nation's athletics federation, also called for the games to be delayed.
The American sports bodies are among several influential federations that called last week for the games to be postponed over the global health crisis.
This year's Olympics are scheduled to be held from July 24 to Aug. 9, while the Paralympics are slated for Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.
The latest developments come after numerous bodies, including the IOC, the Tokyo Games organizing committee and Abe, had consistently maintained the outbreak would not affect the games' schedule.
So far, more than 300,000 people worldwide have been infected with the pneumonia-causing virus.
Japan and the IOC had been coordinating with the World Health Organization in an attempt to keep preparations for the games on track, while organizers announced in February they had established a task force to deal with the outbreak.
The virus has already caused the cancellation or postponement of scores of international sporting competitions, including Olympic qualifiers, over fear of spreading infection among the world's top athletes and the spectators who attend the events.