Tokyo 2020 at real risk as China coronavirus truths come to light

South China Morning Post 發布於 2020年01月29日04:01 • Jonathan White
  • War has been the only reason to prevent previous modern Olympics but revelations over Wuhan outbreak pose problem
  • Qualifiers have already been moved outside of China but scale of movement around region and visitor numbers add layers
A man stands in front of a Tokyo 2020 poster created by artist Tomoko Konoike, one of 20 officially selected for the Olympics and Paralympics. Photo: AP

In the long history of the Olympics the Summer Games has been cancelled three times.

On each occasion since the Modern Olympics returned in 1896, it was because of war. The first world war accounted for 1916 and the second world war took out both the 1940 and 1944 Games and their sister Winter Games.

Now, as we near six months out from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which run from June 24 to August 9 in the Japanese capital, it might be time to think that another one of the four horseman of the apocalypse " pestilence " could claim the next Games.

This is fuelled by revelations around the ongoing global spread of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus, fuelling fears of a global pandemic.

The first of those is a report published in the medical journal, The Lancet, on January 24. This study, written by researchers and doctors on the ground in Wuhan, suggests that what we all thought we knew might not be the case at all.

They are still understanding the virus and its origins. An article on Vox citing the findings reported in The Lancet suggests that the first patient was not only ill much earlier than previously published but that they had no contact with the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market that had been assumed to be the epicentre.

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Who knows how many people have been carrying the virus and to where since its inception?

Add to that, the number of people from Wuhan who spent their Lunar New Year in Japan, a country whose largest visitor numbers come from Chinese tourists. That's not to mention that Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang said some five million of the 11 million populace left the city during the festive period.

Zhou has also admitted that mistakes were made at the outset when it came to this virus, while Pulitzer winning journalist and virus expert Laurie Garrett pointed out that the virus "could have been controlled fairly easily" but "now it's too late".

China's Wang Shuang in action against Japan at the 2018 Asian Game. Photo: Reuters

We are yet to see the aftermath of the world's largest annual human migration that is China's Lunar New Year celebrations but it is sure to be a factor in the spread of the disease.

Human to human contact at the Games is unavoidable. The fans are packed in tight at stadiums, athletes come into contact in the sports and, as we know from the rise in condoms given out at the athletes village at every Olympics, often outside of sporting events.

No wonder that the president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation, Alfons Hormann, has called the virus "the biggest risk" ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games.

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"This is a serious problem because no other part of life is so dependent on international exchange than sport," he said in Frankfurt at a meeting.

Hormann also called on "affected countries and international sport to do everything possible" to find a solution.

He pointed to Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, that overshadowed the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics. In the end, Zika was of limited concern when Brazil hosted the Games but the potential for the Wuhan coronavirus is much worse.

Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese scientist who revealed the scale and severity of the Sars epidemic in 2002-03, believes the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic is likely to reach its peak in "a week or 10 days". Hong Kong University's predictions put the potential peak at either late April or early May.

It seems the one thing we do know is that no one yet trulyknows the scale and severity of this outbreak.

That and it is already having an effect.

Pedestrians wear protective masks as they walk on a shopping district in Tokyo. Photo: AP

Olympic boxing qualifiers have been moved from Wuhan to Amman, while the women's AFC football event was first moved to Nanjing and then to Sydney. Meanwhile, the women's basketball has been taken from Foshan to Belgrade.

The move to Sydney for the women's football had a deeper effect on the China team. They

headed to Australia without star player Wang Shuang and starting midfielder Yao Wei. The pair are both from Wuhan and spent the Lunar New Year in the city visiting their families.

China need to finish in the top two of their group to advance to the final play-off and the silver medallists of 1996 would be better served with two of their best with them in Australia.

Other Chinese athletes might also miss out on qualifying.

The Asia wrestling qualifiers, which are scheduled for Xi'an from March 27-29, could yet be moved to "Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and South Korea," according to International Wrestling Federation President Nenad Lalovic.

He also told AFP in the same interview that should the qualifying event move then Chinese wrestlers would need to be "in quarantine" in order for them to compete.

There are many more sporting events around the region to come before the Summer Games in Tokyo but as they drop the fear is that the biggest of them all is at real risk.

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