Coronavirus and the 2020 Olympics: A Breakdown

By Sammy Bovitz

The coronavirus outbreak has already become an existential issue in the sports world. The NBA season has been suspended indefinitely, the NHL season may soon follow, the MLB season has been delayed, and March Madness will not be played, among other sporting events. With those in mind, let’s turn to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Tokyo, while not extremely close to the original outbreak in Wuhan, China, is still much closer to the source than the United States. So, what’s going to happen? Let’s examine what has been said and spread through rumors. Before we begin, a kind reminder to wash your hands regularly, cover your nose and mouth while sneezing and coughing, and try not to touch your face with unclean hands. 

First, any cancellation of the Olympic games would have to come directly from the International Olympic Committee, which released a statement on March 3rd. In the statement, the committee disclosed they had a meeting regarding a briefing on the situation, followed by a discussion on what to do. They also revealed they had set up a task force in mid-February in conjunction with the city of Tokyo and the World Health Organization to respond to the situation. They announced that, for the moment, the Games would still go on until further notice, but things could very well be adjusted to ensure a safe and secure Games. They closed their statement by encouraging all athletes to continue to prepare. For context, the last time the Olympics were cancelled was in 1944 due to World War II, so a cancellation now would be a dire reflection of the severity of this viral outbreak.

However, don’t think the Games are good to go just yet. The IOC’s longest-serving member, Dick Pound, told the Associated Press that if the WHO advises that the Games cannot go on, they will be cancelled. The Games are currently scheduled to be held from July 24 to August 9, and that may prove to be too early to hold them. However, he closed by saying to athletes that “As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo. All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.”

Another question that has been raised is that of a potential Olympic relocation. In February, London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey said that the city could easily use their venues from 2012 if a move due to coronavirus was necessary. Bailey urged the IOC to  “seriously consider how London could stand ready to host the Olympics should the need arise.” Current mayor Sadiq Khan, through a spokesperson, said London was willing to “step up to the plate” to replace Tokyo as the Games’ host. Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike criticized these comments as inappropriate. For context, Tokyo, the Olympic Committee, sponsors, and others have spent billions of dollars in preparation for these Olympics and to have them moved would be difficult to say the least, both financially and logistically.  

However, financial questions may no longer be the top priority, as in a span of 48 hours after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s diagnosis, health has been shown to be the real priority at hand.

Take a deep breath: most of the NCAA’s annual revenue comes from the insanity and TV coverage of March Madness, which has been cancelled. Major League Baseball has delayed its season start by at least 2 weeks and cancelled Spring Training. The National Hockey League is suspended indefinitely, the National Basketball Association is suspended for at least a month, as is Major League Soccer. The BNP Paribas Open, known to many as ‘the fifth [Grand] Slam’ of tennis, has been cancelled, and the entire men’s tour has been suspended for six weeks. The Players Championship, a PGA tournament long considered to be one of the most important tournaments which is not a major, has been cancelled, as have all tournaments until the Masters, which is now being postponed as well. The XFL, whose new iteration is barely a month old, has been suspended indefinitely. The Champions, Premier, and Europa Leagues, arguably the three most intensely followed leagues in international soccer, have suspended operations. The Boston Marathon has been postponed until September. Formula 1 has postponed its season opener. Even the status of the Kentucky Derby, not scheduled until May 2, is up in the air. The coronavirus has essentially cancelled the sports world for at least two weeks, and likely longer (not to mention Broadway and several highly anticipated films, among other things). The real question is not if, but when, the IOC will have to re-evaluate the situation. It should be noted, again, that these Games are not until July and the disease could be contained before then. 

The International Olympic Committee has said the status of the Games will be announced by the end of May. Until then, we can only guess what their decision is. Will they cancel or postpone the Games which can only be held in the summer? Will they move them to an eager London? Or will they push on against the trend of every sports league shuttering its doors temporarily?