The Tokyo Olympics contract could allow the Games to be postponed until later in 2020, a Japanese government minister said Tuesday as concerns over the new coronavirus surge.
Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto said Japan's government, Tokyo organisers and the International Olympic Committee are "doing their best" to make sure the Games start as scheduled on July 24.
But she said the hosting agreement appears to allow some flexibility in the timing of the Games.
"It says in Article 66 that the IOC holds the right to cancel the Games by deactivating the contract... If you look further inside, it only states 'in case the Games will not be held in 2020'," Hashimoto told parliament, in answer to a question.
"This could be interpreted as postponement is possible if it is within 2020."
Officials have repeatedly stressed they are committed to holding the Games on time. The Olympics have only been cancelled on three occasions, during the first and second world wars.
COVID-19 has spread to more than 70 countries, killing over 3,100 people and causing chaos as governments clamp down on travel and mass gatherings. Football, rugby and Formula One are among the long list of sports affected.
"At this moment, the Tokyo 2020 committee, the IOC and Tokyo (city government) are doing their best to make sure the Games will be held from July 24," Hashimoto said.
"The government will fully support that."
She added that May looked like an "important benchmark" for deciding whether the Games go ahead as scheduled.
"An IOC member has said the end of May is the final deadline for making the decision," Hashimoto said, referring to remarks by senior IOC member Dick Pound.
"So I think the end of May is an important benchmark," Hashimoto said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stepped up measures to contain the virus, urging schools to close for several weeks and calling on organisers of large events to consider cancelling or delaying them.
Everything from football matches and music concerts have been affected, while sumo's spring tournament will be held behind closed doors.
Also on Tuesday, a wheelchair rugby test event for the Paralympics, which are scheduled to start on August 25, was cancelled over the virus.
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to take place from July 24 to August 9