The International Olympic Committee (IOC) reiterated that cancellation of the Olympic Games "is not on the agenda", but announced on Sunday it would decide in four weeks of the coronavirus pandemic would force a postponement of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, due to start on July 24.
The IOC's executive board (EB) said cancelling the Olympics would "not solve any of the problems or help anybody" but said it will "step up its scenario-planning" for the Games, relating 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".
IOC President Thomas Bach said the IOC wants to be part of the solution.
"Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games.
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"Therefore we have made it our leading principle to safeguard the health of everyone involved, and to contribute to containing the virus. I wish, and we all are working for this, that the hope so many athletes, NOCs and IFs from all five continents have expressed will be fulfilled: that at the end of this dark tunnel we are all going through together, not knowing how long it is, the Olympic flame will be a light at the end of this tunnel."
The move comes after increasingly fervent calls for the Olympics to be postponed as Covid-19 cases approached the 300,000 mark and the number of deaths exceeded 11,000.
"This step will allow better visibility of the rapidly changing development of the health situation around the world and in Japan," the IOC press release stated. "It will serve as the basis for the best decision in the interest of the athletes and everyone else involved."
On Saturday, the president of the Dutch cycling federation (KNWU) joined the chorus of those calling for the postponement of the Games, and on Sunday more federations came out publicly in favour of a date change as athletes' training has been hampered, qualifying events postponed or cancelled and many countries prohibiting gatherings of large groups of people to slow the virus' march.
Japan welcomed the Olympic torch this weekend with 50,000 people queuing up for the traditional ceremony to welcome the flame. The country had its first death from Covid-19 on February 12, but the tally held at 33 on Saturday, according to the World Health Organisation.
The improved situation in Japan, the IOC said, could strengthen their confidence that Japan could "with certain safety restrictions" organise the Olympics without jeopardizing the health of the participants. But the IOC recognized that other countries such as Italy, Spain, Germany, France and Iran have been less successful than Asian countries in containing the spread of the virus.
"This led the EB [Executive Board] to the conclusion that the IOC needs to take the next step in its scenario-planning," the press release stated.
Postponing the Games, IOC President Thomas Bach told Germany's SWR television."The Olympic Games cannot be moved like a football game next Saturday. It is a complex undertaking and you can only act responsibly when you have a clear decision-making foundation."
The IOC highlighted venue availability, hotel bookings and the entire international sports calendar which would have to be adjusted for "at least 33 Olympic sports" if the date of the Games was moved. They called on the cooperation of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, Japanese authorities, International Federations, National Olympic Committees (NOCs), broadcasters, sponsors, partners, suppliers and contractors.
"It is in this spirit of the Olympic stakeholders' shared commitment to the Olympic Games, and in light of the worldwide deteriorating situation, that the IOC EB has today initiated the next step in the IOC's scenario-planning."