March 22 (UPI) -- The International Olympic Committee on Sunday announced it is considering postponing the 2020 Summer Games in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In a letter to athletes, IOC President Thomas Bach said the body has established a timeline for when it will decide how the games will proceed after consulting with stakeholders and a task force, including the World Health Organization, to determine how the global pandemic will impact the Tokyo Games currently scheduled to begin July 24.
"Together with all the stakeholders, we have started detailed discussions today to complete our assessment of the rapid development of the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including a scenario of postponement," Bach said.
"We are working very hard and we are confident that we will have finalized these discussions within the next four weeks."
The announcement came two days after the Olympic flame arrived in Japan, an event Bach noted as a source of potential optimism while adding that complications accommodating countries experiencing large outbreaks could persist.
"This could strengthen our confidence in our Japanese hosts that we could, with certain safety restrictions, organize the Olympic Games in the country whilst respecting our principle of safeguarding the health of everyone involved," he said. "On the other hand, we have seen a dramatic increase in cases and new outbreaks of the virus in different countries. This is why we have to undertake the next step in our scenarios."
National Olympic committees from Brazil, Norway and other nations have called for the games to be postponed, along with USA Swimming and USA Track and Field.
Bach said a final decision about how to proceed with the 2020 Olympics would "still be premature" as of Sunday but was committed to avoiding a cancellation.
"Cancellation of the Olympic Games would destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes from all 206 National Olympic Committees, from the IOC Refugee Olympic Team, most likely for the Paralympic athletes and for all the people who are supporting as coaches, doctors, officials, training partners, friends and family," Bach said.
"Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody, Therefore it is not on our agenda," he said."
The 1940 and 1944 Summer and Winter Olympics were canceled because of World II, and the 1914 Summer Olympics because of World War I.