Coronavirus: Former NZ Olympic chief Bruce Ullrich urges swift postponement of Tokyo Games

Former NZ Olympic chef de mission Bruce Ullrich has called for organisers to postpone the Tokyo festival for six months - and to make that decision quickly.

Pressure is mounting on the Tokyo Olympics, after the World Health Organisation officially declared coronavirus a 'pandemic', affecting the entire planet.

Sport has been extensively affected by the illness, with many major events already cancelled, postponed or conducted without spectators.

The Tokyo Olympics are currently scheduled to start on July 24. While some on the organising committee have raised the possibility of postponement for as long as two years, the Japanese Olympic minister has been quick to dismiss that option.

But under the circumstances, Ullrich doesn't believe the Olympics can continue as scheduled.

"I think they should be postponed for about six months, if possible, so they take place in late summer/autumn in Japan," Ullrich told The AM Show.

"If you went beyond that, I would let it go no further than one year. If it's two years, you're running into conflicts with Commonwealth Games and other international events.

"My suggestion is a postponement of 6-12 months."

The predicament is unfortunate for athletes, who have trained hard for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete at the highest level of sport.

Ullrich was team manager for the ill-fated 1980 Moscow Olympics, when most of the western world - including New Zealand - boycotted over Russia's invasion of Afghanistan. A handful of Kiwi athletes defied the NZOC ban to compete. 

"In this case, there is an option to postpone them, if they think they can organise them again in 12 month's time," said Ullrich.

"It's a real dilemma for everyone, but I think a decision has to be made very, very quickly."

Veteran sports broadcaster Brendon Telfer agreed that the Olympics' current timing was untenable, with coronavirus taking a grip on the world.

"Even before you start talking about spectators coming to Tokyo - and they've printed 4.5 million tickets - the Olympic family is the problem," he told The AM Show. "You have a minimum of 50,000 people in positions at every Olympics.

"They cap the number of athletes at 10,000, there's 6000 accredited media and a few thousand non-accredited, thousands of technical officials who run the various sports, you've got VIPs by their thousands and 80,000 volunteers from Japan.

"The Olympic family comprises of 50-100,000 people, all living in close quarters for 6-12-14 hours a day, sharing rooms in many cases.

"I can only imagine, privately, the World Health Organisation must be horrified at the thought, just when they're starting to see a wee bit of light at the end of the tunnel, we're going to have this thing called the Olympic Games."

Telfer offered the prospect of a "truncated" version of the Games with no spectators, which would at least satisfy broadcast contracts worth billions of dollars.