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Tokyo Olympics cancellation for coronavirus would lose billions

Thomas Barrabi

Billions of dollars will be at stake if officials opt to cancel the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan this summer due to public health concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak.

The virus, dubbed COVID-19, originated in China and has spread rapidly to nations around the world, prompting fears of a global pandemic. The 2020 Olympics are expected to attract millions of visitors at a time when public health officials are warning against international travel and urging health precautions at large gatherings.

The potential cancellation of the Olympics imperils billions of dollars already spent on preparations or tied up in various corporate sponsorships or advertising deals. With the 2020 Olympics just months away, officials are expected to determine soon whether the spread of coronavirus warrants a cancellation.

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“It’s a big, big, big decision and you just can’t take it until you have reliable facts on which to base it,” International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said earlier this week, adding that a decision would likely be made by the end of May.

Japan had 180 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday. More than 81,600 individual cases and more than 2,700 deaths have been reported worldwide.

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The city of Tokyo had spent more than $12.4 billion on Olympic preparations as of January, according to the Japan Times. The IOC has spent $5.5 billion on the upcoming games.

Even if the Olympics proceed as planned, coronavirus concerns would likely limit the event’s appeal to tourists and ticket buyers.

Tokyo Olympic organizers have downplayed the possibility of a cancellation.

“Our basic thoughts are that we will go ahead with the Olympic and Paralympic Games as scheduled,” Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said. “For the time being, the situation of the coronavirus infection is, admittedly, difficult to predict, but we will take measures such that we’ll have a safe Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

NBC Sports, owned by media giant Comcast, also stands to take a financial hit if the games are canceled. The network said last December that it had sold more than $1 billion in national advertisements tied to the Olympics. NBC Universal paid $1.1 billion for broadcast rights to the event.

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An NBC Sports representative did not immediately return a request for comment.

Discovery, which paid $1.45 billion for European broadcast rights for the Olympics, would not have to pay for this Olympic cycle if it is canceled, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Pound said a postponement or relocation was unlikely. In the interim, Pound advised the roughly 11,000 Olympic athletes expected to participate in the event to proceed with their training.

“As far as we all know, you're going to be in Tokyo,” Pound said. “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."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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