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The Week In Sports: Rumblings About Coronavirus And Tokyo Olympics

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Add a dash of lemon - time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Could coronavirus threaten the Summer Olympics? And Sabrina Ionescu memorialized her friend and mentor Kobe Bryant and made NCAA history all in the same day. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: So listen. The Tokyo Marathon limited to elite runners because of coronavirus. Japan's pro baseball league, in their spring training now, is currently playing its remaining preseason games in empty stadiums. You have to wonder, will there be an Olympics in Tokyo this summer?

GOLDMAN: Right now, there will be. The message this week from the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Switzerland was full steam ahead with opening ceremonies on July 24. Now, the IOC statement came in response to comments by longtime IOC official Richard Pound from Canada. He brought up the idea that around May, there needs to be a final decision about the games and possible options if the coronavirus becomes more of a problem than it is now.

And when asked about that possible May deadline, the IOC president, Thomas Bach, said he doesn't want to fuel the flames of speculation about any changes to the current plans. So he's not going there. But Bach did stress the IOC is in constant communication with the World Health Organization and said safety is the top priority for every participant at the Olympic Games.

SIMON: This will be people coming - athletes from all over the world and spectators from all over the world.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, yeah. And, I mean, you think about it - a Summer Olympics, a massive global event, is one of the worst events you could have if you're trying to contain a pandemic, you know, because, as you say, people from all over the world coming together in close proximity, then traveling back to their countries - a bad recipe.

SIMON: Are there options?

GOLDMAN: Well, there are. There's cancellation. You know, that's happened three times in history during the world wars. There's moving the games to another city or country. And that's tough to do on short notice because...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...You know, Olympic planning takes years. It's a massive venture, right?

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: And then there's postponement. I talked to Professor Andrew Zimbalist from Smith College. He's done a ton of research and writing about the Olympics.

SIMON: We hear from Andy all the time.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, good guy, and he knows a heck of a lot about the Olympics. He thinks postponement might be the best option - to push the games back a year to July, August of 2021. No options are great. But this one, he says, you know, would be the least damaging.

SIMON: Whether the games go on or not, probably no more Olympics for the champion Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, are there?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's right. And, in fact, there might not be any more career for Sun. He's one of China's most beloved athletes. He was suspended yesterday for a whopping eight years for violating anti-doping rules. He's 28, so, you know, that could be a career-ender if the full sanction holds up under an appeal by Sun.

He's a three-time Olympic gold medalist, first Chinese man to win an Olympic gold in swimming. And his fans are outraged by this ban, but some of his competitors are not, and they say it's about time. They have openly called him a drug cheat. He also served a short ban in 2014. And the resentment bubbled over at last year's World Championships, when one swimmer refused to stand on the medals podium...

SIMON: Yup.

GOLDMAN: ...With Sun, and another refused to shake his hand.

SIMON: I want to wind up by talking about Sabrina Ionescu.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: What a wonderful athlete.

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah, as you mentioned in the intro, you know, her legend grew this past week. She spoke at Kobe Bryant's memorial and then made history the same day. She became the first Division I college player, woman or man, to have at least 2,000 points, a thousand assists and 1,000 rebounds in her career. All those numbers illustrate she's an amazing, all-around player. And when the women's tournament gets started in a few weeks, all eyes are going to be on Sabrina Ionescu.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much for being with us.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.