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Tokyo’s contract with IOC allows Games within 2020: Olympic minister

Tokyo's contract allows it to postpone the Olympic Games until the end of the year, a Japanese minister said yesterday, before she and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reiterated that they hope the Games will start on July 24 as scheduled.

In response to a lawmaker's question in parliament yesterday amid concerns that the coronavirus could disrupt the event, Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto said: "The contract calls for the Games to be held within 2020. That could be interpreted as allowing a postponement."

However, Japan's government and host city Tokyo were still committed to hosting the Games, she added. And, under the deal, the right to cancel the Games belongs to the IOC.

The virus has infected at least 230 people across Japan and has been linked to five deaths.

Separately, IOC chief Thomas Bach reiterated that preparations were still underway for a "successful" Games.

"We will have to prepare many of the final decisions that we will have to take in June," Bach said, referring to a first pre-Games executive board meeting from June 15-17 in Lausanne.

"We will have to make some proposals for the session in Tokyo."

The IOC board is also set to meet from July 18-19 in Tokyo, with the Olympics running from July 24-Aug 9.

Any halt to the Games would be costly.

The latest budget is 1.35 trillion yen (S$17.37b), with Japan's government providing 120 billion yen to build the Olympic Stadium and 30 billion yen towards the cost of the Paralympics, Hashimoto said.

To curb the virus, Japan's government has asked schools to close and encouraged the curtailment of events, including sports meetings that could attract large crowds.

A wheelchair rugby test event this month has been cancelled. - REUTERS