David Owen

So Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has, in the words of this website, "sought to allay fears" over the impact of the coronavirus on Tokyo 2020.

He has little choice: any intimation of undue worry or weakness on the part of such an influential leader might trigger renewed panic.

I fail to see though how even the esteemed Abe-san can have all that much more of a clue than the rest of us about how big a mark on the world, and hence the Olympic and Paralympic Games, coronavirus will end up leaving.

As the Financial Times said in a recent editorial, the global economy has been left "largely at the mercy of nature".

Or as poet Robbie Burns once observed a touch more colourfully: "The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley".

This deep uncertainty makes the virus a peculiarly difficult subject to blog about: on the one hand its potential ramifications make it all but impossible to ignore; on the other, one is loath to launch into it without having something at least semi-worthwhile to say.

Regarding its ultimate impact on Tokyo 2020, if any, really your guess is as good as mine. All one can do is await developments. How quickly can the virus be contained?

Two possible, even probable, impacts on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) do however occur to me.

The impact of coronavirus on Tokyo 2020 remains to be seen ©Getty Images
The impact of coronavirus on Tokyo 2020 remains to be seen ©Getty Images

1. The body's insurance costs look likely to go up, again.

This is the third Games in a row to have shadows of uncertainty thrown across them, and while Zika and North Korean brinkmanship ended up having little effect on the final pageant, there is no guarantee that such alarms will always be false.

As I discovered last summer – the IOC paid almost 70 per cent more for Games cancellation insurance for Pyeongchang 2018 than it did for the previous Winter Olympics at Sochi in 2014.

It will be interesting to see how much higher the premium is for Tokyo than the $14.38 million (£11 million/€13 million) the IOC coughed up for Rio 2016.

Thereafter, Allianz is scheduled to come on board as "worldwide Olympic insurance partner", pledged to "provide innovative and integrated insurance solutions to support the Olympic Movement, including the Organising Committees of the Olympic Games".

2. I wonder whether the current situation might not also lead Lausanne to take a long, hard look at its reserves to determine if they truly would be sufficient to tide the body over during a Games-less quadrennium.

According to the IOC's 2018 annual report, the "fund balance" then stood at $2.4 billion (£1.84 billion/€2.17 billion) .

Of this total, 77 per cent – so around $1.85 billion (£1.4 billion/€1.67 billion) – was said to be "undesignated to cover the expenditure and contributions planned during non-Games years where no Games revenue will be recognised, as well as for the Olympic Foundation as part of the IOC's risk management strategy".

The Olympic Foundation portfolio is described subsequently as the "primary reserve fund of the IOC. Its purpose is to cover the operating expenses of the IOC over an Olympiad in which no Games were held".

These are, of course, the sort of sums that would make most sports bodies green with envy.

Nonetheless, I have the firm impression that central costs are rising year-by-year.

It might well be prudent to run the rule, once again, over this rainy day fund, however impressive it looks on the surface.

• This week brought the state of Iowa's big quadrennial moment in the spotlight, as caucuses marked the first formal contest of the 2020 United States Presidential election.

On this occasion, it seems to have fluffed its lines, but the moment always puts me in mind of the baseball movie Field of Dreams, and the exchange, "Is this heaven?"/ "No, Iowa".

Another well-known quote from the film, "If you build it, he [or they] will come", might once have been a mission statement for the IOC; but not, of course, any more.

By one interpretation, the story-line of what admittedly is a very sentimental work, could be viewed as highly supportive of apparent white elephants: the lead character ploughs under part of his corn crop to build a model baseball stadium in the middle of nowhere and, while it seems a hare-brained recipe for disaster, people do, indeed, finally come. 

Could Simone Biles become the next must-see phenomenon of the Olympic Games? ©Getty Images
Could Simone Biles become the next must-see phenomenon of the Olympic Games? ©Getty Images

They don't come because of the stadium, however: they come because an extraordinary spectacle – "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and his team-mates from the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox – can apparently be seen playing there.

They would no doubt have flocked just as enthusiastically to see this at a pre-existing stadium – or a car-park.

The message for the IOC is therefore not that they need to start building again, but that they need a replacement for Usain Bolt as the Games' equivalent of a reanimated Shoeless Joe: a must-see phenomenon.

My money, assuming for now that coronavirus does not spoil the Tokyo 2020 party, is on Simone Biles.

• They are among the oldest and most incorrigible adversaries on the face of the earth, but when the French and English can be convinced to work together, good things not infrequently result.

One thinks of Eric Cantona and Manchester United, Peter Brook and the Bouffes du Nord theatre, P-Y.Gerbeau and the Millennium Dome and of course Mike Lee and Paris 2024.

This weekend brought a new example in the shape of defence coach Shaun Edwards, once of Wigan and rugby league, and the French rugby union team.

I cannot recall witnessing a French team defend as stoutly and, for the most part, effectively as in Sunday's (February 2) surprise 24-17 win over England.

It is early days, but with France due to host the next men's Rugby World Cup in 2023, and plenty of young players beginning to blossom, perhaps Les Bleus are destined finally, with Edwards' help, to lay hands on the Webb Ellis Cup.