March 12, 2020 / 11:36 PM / 24 days ago

Tokyo Olympics organizers dig in their heels after Trump suggests one-year delay

TOKYO, March 13 (Reuters) - Tokyo 2020 organizers said on Friday they were moving ahead with preparations to hold "safe and secure" Games on schedule, after U.S. President Donald Trump said officials should consider delaying the event for one year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan has sought to squash speculation that the event, which has cost it at least $12 billion in preparations and attracted more than $3 billion in domestic sponsorships, could be cancelled or postponed as the number of cases grows worldwide, including in Japan.

"The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee wants to move ahead with preparations for a safe and secure Games this July," the organizers told Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

It added that to that end, it is monitoring the coronavirus pandemic together with the international Olympic and Paralympic bodies, receiving advice from the World Health Organization, and coordinating with the government and the Tokyo authorities.

The outbreak has already crippled global travel and hit Olympic qualifiers and other sports events. Japan has shuttered schools. Public health officials have discouraged large gatherings to curtail the spread of the highly contagious disease, and major soccer tournaments, National Basketball Association (NBA) games and other sports have been halted.

"I just can't see having no people there," Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday.

"Maybe they postpone it for a year... if that's possible," he said, adding he would not officially make that recommendation to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who could make his own decision.

"I like that better than I like having empty stadiums all over the place. I think if you cancel it, make it a year later that's a better alternative than doing it with no crowd," Trump said.

An Olympic organizing committee board member said earlier this week any decision to delay the Summer Games would need to be made before May. On Thursday, the prelude to the games got underway with the lighting of the Olympic Torch in a scaled-down ceremony behind closed doors.

The United States is one of the biggest participants in the Games, which are scheduled to begin in July and expected to be a major economic boost for Japan.

Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski and Linda Sieg; editing by Richard Pullin

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