Japan's Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto said on Tuesday that the contract allows for the Tokyo Games to be postponed within 2020 due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to start on July 24 but with coronavirus now a global problem, speculation over a postponement or cancellation has risen even if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) still hopes it can go ahead as planned.

The IOC Executive Board, meeting in Switzerland, said in a statement that it ‘expressed its full commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, taking place from July 24 to August 9 2020.’  While the IOC mulls its options, with member Richard Pound saying it has until May to make a decision, the Japanese government made clear the Games could be put back to later in the year if necessary.

‘The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the right to cancel the Tokyo Olympics only if the Games are not held within this year,’ Hashimoto said, inferring the Tokyo event could not be pushed back to 2021.

About 11,000 athletes are expected to participate in the Olympics. The Paralympics are due to start on August 25.

The coronavirus outbreak that originated in China has killed more than 3,000 people and infected more than 90,000 worldwide.

Japan has so far confirmed nearly 990 cases of the infection, including about 700 on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in the port of Yokohama.

The Japan Para Sports Association said on Tuesday that it had cancelled a test event for Paralympic wheelchair rugby due to the outbreak. The event was originally scheduled to take place in mid-March.

The IOC executive board will also meet on Wednesday, after which president Thomas Bach will hold a news conference. IOC spokesman Mark Adams is due to speak to the press after Tuesday's session.

The IOC statement said the board heard a report on all the measures taken so far to address the coronavirus situation, before holding a comprehensive discussion.

‘A joint task force had already been created in mid-February, involving the IOC, Tokyo 2020, the host city of Tokyo, the government of Japan and the World Health Organization (WHO), the statement added.

‘The IOC executive board appreciates and supports the measures being taken, which constitute an important part of Tokyo's plans to host a safe and secure Games.’  The IOC said it will continue to follow the advice of the WHO and welcomed the ‘flexibility’ of federations and athletes with regards to preparations for the Games, with some qualification events being hit by the outbreak.

‘The IOC executive board encourages all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. The IOC will keep supporting the athletes by providing the latest information and developments,’ it added.

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