Mitt Romney says Tokyo Olympics should go on without spectators

(Douglas Pizac | AP file photo) In this Sept. 17, 2001, file photo, Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, with the new Olympic "We Stand United" pin during a news conference, in Salt Lake City.

Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing readers free access to critical local stories about the coronavirus during this time of heightened concern. See more coverage here.

Washington • Some 19 years ago, Mitt Romney faced one of the more difficult situations of his life: Should Utah cancel the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 upended American life.

In the end, the 2002 Games went on and were considered successful both in uniting the country and world and in securing a major sporting event even as New York and Washington were recovering from the attacks.

Now, with Japan set to host the Summer Olympics in months amid the spread of a deadly flu virus, Romney, who headed the Olympics in Salt Lake City, suggests the Games in Tokyo should go on – but without spectators and with added protection for athletes.

“They will have to make a judgment call on what kind of COVID-19 cases they're seeing in Tokyo,” Romney, now a U.S. senator from Utah, said Tuesday. “I think one option, which I presume they're considering, is hosting the Olympics with spectators watching on TV and not in person and providing additional support for athletes to make sure that they're able to have sufficient distance from one another.”

Such a move was considered but later dropped as an idea regarding the Utah Olympics.

Romney says the world can still watch the Games on TV, and “that would be something I’d be considering were I in their position.”