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Pressure to Cancel Tokyo Olympics Mounts Amid Dramatic Spike in Coronavirus Cases

The International Olympic Committee has considered postponing, but not cancelling, this year’s Olympics as it faces mounting pressure due to concerns over the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 Tokyo Games, set to begin July 24, have been called into question because of the risks associated with the spread of COVID-19, which has now infected more than 353,600 people and killed 15,430 around the world. In a statement on Sunday, the IOC announced that it was considering several options over the next month — ranging from moving forward with the event as scheduled or changing its start date — as sports federations, public health leaders and even countries urge the governing body to rethink its plans to move forward with the event.

“We are in a dilemma: Cancellation of the Olympic Games would destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes,” IOC president Thomas Bach wrote in a letter dated March 22. “Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody. Therefore it is not on our agenda. … Contrary to other sports events, to postpone the Olympic Games is an extremely complex challenge.”

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The dramatic spike in global cases has also led Canada and Australia to pull participants from the event. Later in the day, both countries’ Olympic committees said they would not be sending their athletes to the Games if they were still held in the summer. Both countries called for the IOC to postpone the event until 2021.

What’s more, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe conceded that the outbreak could impact the schedule of the Olympics. Speaking at a parliamentary session on Monday, he said, “This decision by [the] IOC is in line with what I have said, about holding the games in their entirety. In case this becomes difficult, in order to make the athletes our top priority, we may have no choice but to decide to postpone the Games.”

For weeks, the IOC has been criticized for being steadfast that the Games will go on despite a surge in COVID-19 deaths as well as the shutdown of many countries’ training facilities in order to help prevent the spread of the illness. As Italy remains under strict quarantine measures, for instance, the Italian National Olympic Committee has suspended all team sports competitions until April 3.

Separately, in the United States, high-profile events such as March Madness, the BNP Paribas Open and the Boston Marathon have all been either canceled or postponed. Sports leagues including Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League have also announced they have either suspended their seasons or pushed them to a later date.

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