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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Trump says delaying Olympics a year better than no spectators

Outlook clouds for Tokyo as travel restrictions disrupt plans

The just-lit Olympic torch at a ceremony in Greece, this time closed to the general public because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Pool photo)

NEW YORK/TOKYO -- U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday raised the possibility of postponing the Summer Olympics in Tokyo over the coronavirus pandemic.

"Maybe they postpone it for a year," Trump told reporters at the White House.

"I think that's a better alternative than doing it with no crowd," he also said.

The remarks came the day that the Olympic torch was lit in Greece. But canceling or postponing a sporting event that involves more than 10,000 athletes from overseas is no easy matter. As the world grapples with the unpredictable pandemic, Tokyo hopes to avoid the worst outcome of cancellation, but the outlook remains uncertain.

Over a million spectators are expected at the summer games, in addition to the athletes, coaches, sports association officials and foreign media staff. 

Even if Japan manages to bring the domestic outbreak under control, "if travel restrictions prevent overseas athletes and spectators from coming to Japan, the games cannot take place," said a government official involved in Olympics preparations. 

A cancellation would result in massive monetary damage for many parties involved. Television stations have already set broadcasting schedules, and big sponsor companies have purchased commercial spots. A postponement may be an easier route, but this, too, would require huge added costs in terms of both money and human resources. 

The Summer Olympics have been canceled just three times since the first games were held in Athens in 1896. The 1916 Berlin games were canceled due to World War I, and the 1940 Helsinki games and the 1944 London Olympics fell victim to World War II.

So far, Japanese officials insist that the games will go on as scheduled.

"This is no change in plans to proceed with preparations," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Thursday.

And the preparations went on as scheduled. Women wearing traditional white gowns lit the Olympic torch Thursday at the Olympia archaeological site albeit without an audience. 

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach also stressed that the games will take place as planned.

"This [ceremony] demonstrates once more our commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020," Bach said.

The outbreak has thrown a wrench into multiple Olympic qualifying events. The all-around artistic-gymnastics world cup, originally scheduled to take place in Germany this month, has been canceled. International wrestling prelims slated to start in April in Bulgaria have been delayed until June.

Back in February, Trump had mentioned the possibility of visiting Japan this summer.

"I might. We were invited," he said. "I was invited by Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe, and we'll make that determination."

Later in February, the president said: "I hope it's going to be fine."

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