TOKYO -- Suggestions by a senior International Olympics Committee member that the Tokyo Games could be canceled if the coronavirus outbreak is not contained by May drew a swift reaction from Japanese officials, while sponsoring companies are anxiously awaiting the fate of the world's biggest sporting event.
Comments by committee member Dick Pound regarding a possible cancellation "are not an official announcement by the IOC," Seiko Hashimoto, Minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, told Japan's House of Representatives on Wednesday. The minister stressed that the IOC has told the Tokyo Organizing Committee that it is working to hold the Games in July as scheduled.
"I believe it is necessary to imagine the worst situation in order to achieve the best possible success," she added.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga echoed Hashimoto's remarks at a press conference, saying the world's biggest sporting event will be held as planned. "We would like to prepare steadily for the event, including offering information abroad regarding our measures against the spread of the coronavirus," Suga said.
The officials' comments were prompted after Pound, who has served on the IOC since 1978, told the Associated Press that "you're probably looking at a cancellation" if the games cannot go ahead as scheduled.
"You just don't postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics,' he said. "There's so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can't just say, 'We'll do it in October.'"
Sponsoring companies, meanwhile, are watching the situation carefully.
"We are monitoring the situation. The health of our customers, employees and partnering companies is the biggest priority," said a spokesperson for Bridgestone, an auto and truck parts manufacturer and one of the Worldwide Olympic Partners.
"We are gathering information from various parties, including the World Health Organization, the Japanese government and the IOC," the spokesperson added.
Panasonic and Toyota Motor, which are also sponsors, declined to comment.
While it is still far too soon to say whether the Games will go ahead as scheduled, analysts say sponsors would not have many options for recouping their losses if the event is cancelled.
"No one was expecting that an epidemic would be a country risk," said Takashi Asuma, senior consultant of business continuity management at Sompo Risk Management. "The way foreign countries see Japan is more impactful than Japan emphasizing its measures to stop the outbreak."
South Africa has canceled a men's under-23 friendly against Japan over concerns about the outbreak, the Japan Football Association revealed on Sunday. The day before, the U.S. State Department called for "increased caution" when traveling to Japan, following a travel alert raised by Thailand.
"There would be no way for sponsoring companies to reduce their economic loss. It could cost even more if they terminate their sponsorship now," Asuma added. "Watching the situation is the only thing these companies can do."
Like other major Japanese media outlets, Nikkei is also a sponsor of the Olympics and Paralympics.