White House Says ‘Too Early to Make a Call’ About Its Recommendations for Olympic Team Traveling to Tokyo

Sean Neumann
·4-min read

Aris Messinis - Pool/Getty Olympic torch

With the Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for this summer — and still not entirely certain — because of COVID-19, the White House advised patience on its recommendations about American athletes traveling for the competition, despite the administration's support and Japan's confidence.

A senior Biden official said on a call with reporters Thursday that "we think the Olympics is a wonderful tradition, but at the same time, right now, it is probably slightly too early to make a call about what to expect" when it comes to American participation in the Summer Games.

"We certainly in no way want to hurt the Japanese efforts," the official said.

A reporter had asked "to what degree have" White House aides discussed the safety of the Summer Olympics and what officials thought about advising athletes to participate, while President Joe Biden continues to urge Americans to take pandemic precautions.

"Is there a risk of [Biden] looking like he's relaxing the rules if he's authorizing sending large groups of American athletes into a hotspot in Tokyo at a time when vaccines there are in short supply?" the reporter asked.

The question came ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's visit to the White House on Friday.

Suga, 72, is the first foreign leader to meet with Biden, 78, in person during his presidency, which started nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Japanese leader said last month he expected to invite Biden to personally attend the Olympics, ESPN reported.

RELATED: All the Celebrity Olympic Torch Bearers Over the Years

Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty President Joe Biden

The Associated Press reported Friday morning that a top Japanese official had walked back a comment from a Japanese political leader who said Thursday that "of course" the Tokyo Games could be postponed again or canceled due to a local surge in coronavirus cases.

"There are a variety of concerns, but as the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee we are not thinking about canceling the games," Seiko Hashimoto, the head of the Olympic committee, told reporters on Friday.

RELATED: Team USA Swimmers Reveal What They're Looking Forward to Most About Visiting Japan for Olympics

A New York Times tracker shows Japan has had roughly 2,830 COVID cases per day over the past week. The country has had just over half a million cases throughout the entire pandemic.

In the U.S., there's been an average of more than 70,000 cases per day over the last week and more than 31.5 million cases overall in the past year.

CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Tokyo Summer Olympics logo

As countries around the world are working to roll out vaccinations, debates over holding large-gathering events have continued.

RELATED: Fencer Eli Dershwitz Recounts Qualifying for Olympics a Week Before Pandemic Postponement: 'It Was Tough'

The AP reports local polls show as many as 80 percent of people in Japan say they don't want the country to hold the Olympic Games during the pandemic. Japan has already spent more than $15 billion on hosting the games, according to the AP.

The senior White House official said on Thursday's call that they "expect" the Summer Olympics will come up during Biden's meeting with Suga on Friday afternoon.

"I think we still are a couple of months away, fundamentally, from knowing what the situation will be like," the White House official said. "I think, if anything, [Biden's] likely to ask the Prime Minister for an update and for his views on how things stand."

The Summer Olympics are set to begin on July 23 and end on Aug. 8.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments.PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.