Japan’s deputy prime minister has pointed to the history of the Olympics to explain why the Tokyo 2020 Games have been “cursed” by the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Taro Aso has suggested that the Olympics get entwined in global affairs every 40 years, saying it is no surprise the virus, which has infected nearly 220,000 people worldwide, should threaten to cancel or postpone this year’s Games.
World War II forced the 1940 Summer and Winter Games in Japan to be canceled, while in 1980, the United States led a boycott of the Games in protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
“The Sapporo Winter Olympics, which should have happened in 1940, went away, the next Moscow games in 1980 was half blown away because of the boycott of Western countries,” Aso said.
“Another 40 years makes it this year. The mass media would love this expression if I say it’s a cursed Olympics – but it’s a reality.”
Aso is no stranger to making controversial comments. Earlier this year he came under fire after apparently blaming childless women for Japan’s demographic woes.
This week, Olympic organizers announced that no “drastic decisions” will be made about the Games, currently scheduled to get underway in July, and urged athletes to continue their preparation as planned – comments that roused dissent among the athlete community.
Gyms, running tracks and training centers are closing around the world as members of the public are encouraged to stay indoors, while numerous qualifying events also face being canceled.
Japan Olympic Committee board member Kaori Yamaguchi, a judo bronze medalist at the 1988 Olympics, called for the Games to be postponed because athletes are unable to prepare adequately.
“The Olympics should not be held in a situation people in the world can’t enjoy,” she told the Nikkei newspaper.
“As far as I can tell, athletes in the United States and Europe are unable to train as normal and finish their qualifying matches. That makes it impossible for them to appear well prepared at the start, with all the associated risks.”
Kentaro Itawa, a Japanese infectious disease expert who criticized inadequate infection control on board the quarantined cruise ship the Diamond Princess, said the Olympics should be canceled.
“The Olympics are not just a mass gathering, but a mass gathering from all over the world, while COVID is a global pandemic,” Iwata reportedly wrote on his blog.
“These two things don’t go together.”
Meanwhile, Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori has not been included in a list of those thought to be at risk of Covid-19 despite meeting with another Olympic official who was diagnosed with the virus Tuesday.
Mori is confirmed to have attended the same meeting on March 10 as Kozo Tashima, vice president of the Olympic Committee and president of the Japan Football Association.
“Following their consultation with JFA president Tashima, the local health authorities have contacted all those they believe to be at risk of having contracted the virus from him,” said a statement from Tokyo 2020 organizers.
“Neither the organizing committee nor Tokyo 2020 president Mori have been contacted in this regard by the local health authority.”
Tashima is undergoing treatment for the virus after returning from a UEFA board meeting in the Netherlands that included a stop in the US.
CNN’s Aleks Klosok, Carly Walsh and Yoko Wakatsuki contributed to this report.