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Tokyo calls off test event; growing virus threatens Olympics

TOKYO (AP) — A Tokyo Olympic test event featuring Paralympic wheelchair rugby has been called off because of the virus outbreak, which is threatening the games that are expected to open in less than five months.

The test event was to take place on March 12-15 in Tokyo and original plans called for athletes from abroad.

Tokyo organizers on Tuesday said the Japan Para Sports Association canceled the event in line with the Japan government policy that is discouraging large-crowd event over the next several weeks, a move aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.

Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee say the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead as planned and open on July 24. But each passing day sees events canceled and puts the future of the Olympics in jeopardy.

Former IOC vice president Dick Pound told the Associated Press in an interview last week that a decision about the Olympics probably has to be made in the next several months.

"You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Pound said. “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.”

And if it got to the point of not going ahead, Pound speculated “you’re probably looking at a cancellation.”

“This is the new war and you have to face it. 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?’”

The Olympics have been canceled only three times, all during wartime.

Kevan Gosper, who like Pound is a former IOC vice president, also said cancellation was feasible.

“This is serious because of the spread, it's serious because of the speed with which it's escalating,” Gosper told Australia's national broadcaster ABC. “But for the first time we've got to think seriously that we've only got a two-to-three-month window (to decide) if we can continue with the games. ... If the situation doesn't improve, or vaccines aren't available, and it continues to escalate then the only possibility is that the Games will be canceled."

Tokyo organizers have 17 test event remaining on their schedule. The last one is to end of May 8. Most are small events featuring only local athletes. The most significant is a gymnastics test on April 4-6 that is expected to have non-Japanese competing.

Japan's profession baseball league is playing preseason games in stadiums without fans, and the soccer J-League has suspended play until March 18. The famous Tokyo Marathon was held last Sunday with only a few hundred elite runners, instead of a public party for 30,000 participants.

Tokyo organizers said in a statement they would hold a wheelchair rugby test event “in some form” in April.

The virus that started in China has been detected in at least 70 countries, with 90,000 cases and 3,100 deaths reported.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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