KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Concern has increased for the prospects for the Olympics in Tokyo in July and August after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said sports and cultural events should all be called off for two weeks in the struggle to contain the spread of coronavirus.

His statement followed cautious comments from Dick Pound, the most experienced veteran among members of the International Olympic Committee.

Domestically Japanese football J.League has suspended its match programme and Tokyo’s baseball league has said it will stage games behind closed doors until at least March 15.

Six deaths and 170 cases of infection have been reported and the government has told companies to allow staff to work from home or stagger commutes.

Abe, in a parliamentary statement, said: “Taking into account that the next one to two weeks are extremely important in stopping the spread of infection, the government considers there to be a large risk of transmission at sports, cultural events and large gatherings of people.”

Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto has told parliament that preparations for the Olympics were going ahead as planned with the local authorities and the International Olympic Committee. However training for the volunteers has been postponed and the route of the pre-Games torch relay has been cut back.

Pound, in an interview with AP, said that a decision about the Games could not be delayed beyond the end of May because of the extent of preparatory work.

He said: “In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?’.

“A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels. The media folks will be in there building their studios.”

He though cancellation the most likely worst case scenario rather than postponement or venue switch.

The 1940 Olympics, scheduled for Tokyo,  were cancelled because of the outbreak of the second world war but the 2016 Games went ahead in Rio de Janeiro as planned despite an outbreak of the zika virus.