As the coronavirus spreads in Japan, the chief executive of the Tokyo Games said Friday he can't guarantee the postponed Olympics will be staged next year — even with a 16-month delay.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued an emergency declaration this week to battle the virus, putting the country under restrictions after it seemed it had avoided the spread.
"I don't think anyone would be able to say if it is going to be possible to get it under control by next July or not," Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said, speaking through an interpreter at a news conference conducted remotely. "We're certainly are not in a position to give you a clear answer."
The Olympics were postponed last month with a new opening set for July 23, 2021, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 24.
Abe has been criticized for being slow to act against the coronavirus. Opposition political leaders have suggested he downplayed the severity of the virus and have said it may have been tied to wanting to hold the Olympics this year.
"We have made the decision to postpone the games by one year," Muto added. "So this means that all we can do is work hard to prepare for the games. We sincerely hope that come next year mankind will manage to overcome the coronavirus crisis."
Muto was asked if there are alternative plans to 2021.
"Rather than think about alternatives plans, we should put in all of our effort," he said. "Mankind should bring together all of its technology and wisdom to work hard so they can development treatments, medicines and vaccines."
Japan has reported about 5,000 cases and 100 deaths. The country has the world's oldest population, and COVID-19 can be especially serious for the elderly.
Muto was asked several times about the added costs of postponing, which has been estimated by Japanese media at between $2 billion-$6 billion. He said it was too soon to know the price tag and who would pay.
He also acknowledged that Tokyo Olympic organizers had taken out insurance.
"Tokyo 2020 has taken out several insurance policies," he said. "But whether the postponement of the games qualifies as an event that is covered is not clear yet."
He was also asked about the Olympic flame, which was taken off public display this week in Fukushima prefecture. Muto had an away-from-the-microphone talk with Tokyo spokesman Masa Takaya before talking about the flame.
"After the Olympic torch relay was canceled, the Olympic flame was put under the management of Tokyo 2020," Muto said. "Obviously in the future there is a possibility it might be put on display somewhere. However, for now it is under the management of Tokyo 2020 and I'm not going to make any further comment on the issue."
There are suggestions the International Olympic Committee is thinking of taking the flame on a world tour, hoping to use it as a symbol of the battle against the virus. However, any tour would be impossible until travel restrictions are lifted.
Taking the flame away from Japan could also upset the hosts.
Sam Grewe could end up missing the start of medical school to go to the Paralympics, and that will be fine with him.
With the games postponed until 2021, the Notre Dame student and Paralympic silver medalist in the high jump will face a packed senior year and graduation.
"I would expect an extra element to the sense of urgency for the training next year," the American said. "I might miss my first two weeks of medical school to be in Tokyo, which is so far from ideal ... but I wouldn't miss Tokyo for anything."
Along with the Olympics, the Paralympics have been pushed back to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The new dates are Aug. 24-Sept. 5.
For many Paralympians, a delay seemed like the only option amid lockdowns around the world. Paralympic athletes often have specific medical and training needs which can't always be met at a time when people are staying home and doctors are helping out overloaded ERs.
"Sports are important but I think health is more important, frankly, and I think that this postponement has really, I would hope, enabled athletes to pause from those immediate concerns to train and really to prioritize their own health," said Dr. Cheri Blauwet, who won a Paralympic gold medal in wheelchair racing for the United States in 2004.
Specialized facilities are closed, leaving athletes training at home off video guidance from coaches. Different athletes are affected in different ways.
Visually impaired runners train and compete with a guide, and can't necessarily meet up with them while complying with social distancing rules. Sprinters' carbon-fiber "blade" prosthetics work great on a track, but aren't suited for asphalt or grass. Wheelchair rims can transmit the virus onto the user's hands if not disinfected regularly.
"Many of us operate with equipment and that equipment is essential," Blauwet said. "I think everyone is taking extra precautions to ensure we're doing everything we can to maintain sterility of our day-to-day equipment."
While Paralympians are in general much fitter than most people, some have conditions which make them vulnerable to the virus, said Dr. Feranmi Okanlami, the director of adaptive sports at the University of Michigan.
Athletes with a spinal cord injury may have reduced lung capacity, making it harder to cough, and they may also be susceptible to bed sores while being treated, said Okanlami, who was himself left paralyzed by a spinal injury and uses a wheelchair.
As the virus outbreak spreads in the United States, Okanlami has been seeing patients virtually and working on a coronavirus hotline.
"There are going to be even more patients treated as outpatients than there will be in the hospital and these patients need to have someone to talk to as well," he said in a text message.
Training conditions vary sharply across the world for Paralympians at the best of times. Specialized training facilities, coaching and equipment are often expensive.
Better-resourced national Paralympic bodies have set up online coaching resources for athletes, but many organizations in poorer countries don't even have a website.
In New Zealand, athletes training at home have support from strength and conditioning coaches and nutrition advice, as well as regular group calls with a sports psychologist.
"As a small nation with approximately 53 Para athletes targeting Tokyo we are able to provide very personal and individualized support," Paralympics New Zealand spokeswoman Melissa Dawson said in an e-mail.
The head of the International Paralympic Committee, Andrew Parsons, said he is only leaving his home in Brazil to buy food.
"This momentaneous and extremely tough new reality would be easier if we knew how long it would last but, the truth is, nobody knows. The uncertainty is hard to process," Parsons said in a letter to athletes dated Thursday.
"It is OK to not be OK and at a time when we are encouraged to be apart, we must unite like never before. We must look out for and support each other and prioritize health and well-being above everything else."
Bangladesh T20 captain Mahmudullah Riyad was blessed with a baby boy on Monday night.
Both the newborn baby and its mother are good in health now, confirmed a source close to their family.
This is the second time when Mahmudullah became a father. He also has an eight-year-old boy.
While Mahmudullhah was blessed with the second child, Shakib Al Hasan is also expecting his second child.
The Bangladesh all-rounder, who has been serving a two-year-long ban with one year is suspended, is now in the USA with his family. The all-rounder posted an image of his elder daughter on social media holding a baby t-shirt stating ‘welcome home’ with the caption ‘big sisterhood’ on Tuesday.
Sources close to Shakib’s family confirmed that the all-rounder and his wife are expecting a baby girl later this month.
All cricketing activities are on hold in Bangladesh like the other parts of the world due to the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus. So the cricketers are staying at home and working only on their fitness.
Epyllion Group, a leading business house in Knitwears and Garments sector of the country, has distributed security and safety kits among the sports journalists from all media houses in the capital on Saturday.
The Epyllion Foundation, a concern of the business house, decided to support the sports journalists to help them discharge their duties safely during outbreak of deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country and elsewhere in the world.
Addressing a function on the occasion, the owner of Epyllion Group Riazuddin Al Mamoon, a former director of Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB), said he is associated with sports for long time.
“I have always treated sports journalists as my family members, so it is my duty to stand behind them in this crucial situation arising from Coronavirus,” he said.
Earlier, Epyllion Foundation also provided safety kits to the city hospitals to support Coronavirus victims.
Narail Express Foundation, the charity run by Bangladesh cricket’s most successful captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, launched a mobile medical unit to serve his home district during the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the initiative, NEF will offer treatment services focused on the marginal population in the remote areas of the district. Besides anyone infected with the coronavirus, other patients will also receive medical advice and treatment from this mobile medical unit, according to the charity’s Facebook page, that Mashrafe himself also confirmed.
“Chairman of Narail Express Foundation, Mashrafe, announced to launch a medical team to treat the people who live in the remote areas of the district. The initiative will start working from Sunday (Apr 5). If you think you need this service, please contact us,” read the announcement on the social media page of the charity.
“We will be updating our programme, and inform you all about the working areas. To make this initiative a success, please do practice social distancing and the other medical advice which was instructed by the government,” it also said.
Earlier, Mashrafe helped 1,200 families by providing them with food and groceries. He also provided 500 PPEs (personal protective equipment) for the health-workers of Narail. Bangladesh cricket’s most successful captain also donated half his monthly salary to tackle the current situation in the country which was prompted by the deadly coronavirus.