International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has dismissed “speculation” about cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics and said his organisation would in early February publish its plans to counter the Covid-19 risk at the event.
Speaking to the media after an IOC executive board meeting yesterday, Bach addressed recent reports that this year’s Games could be moved or cancelled, and said: “We are not losing our time and energy on speculation. We are fully concentrating on the Opening Ceremony on 23 July this year. We are not speculating on whether the Games are taking place. We are working on how the Games will take place.”
He said the Japanese government, the Tokyo Organising Committee and the Japanese Olympic Committee also remained committed to running the event this year.
The IOC is putting together Covid-19 countermeasures “for every possible scenario”, he said, taking advice from sources including the Japanese government, Japanese health authorities, the World Health Organisation, and vaccine manufacturers. The measures will be detailed in ‘playbooks’ that will be distributed to National Olympic Committees and Olympic team leaders in early February. AFP reported that these will address issues including immigration, quarantines, transportation in Tokyo, living in the Olympic Village, and social distancing.
However, it will still be too early to say exactly which measures will be most suitable and will be employed at the Games, according to the advice the IOC is getting. “We just have to ask for patience and understanding – from the athletes, from the National Olympic Committees, the International Federations, the Japanese people, the Organising Committee, everybody,” Bach said.
The president said the successful running of more than 7,000 events by international sports federations during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter season had given the IOC added confidence that the Tokyo Games could be run safely. He said there had been 175,000 Covid-19 tests at these events, and only 0.18 per cent were positive.
“We also see many summer sports already back with competitions, with the same results, with the same care for the safety of everybody involved. And this is why we are so, so confident.”
AFP reported that Bach pointed to the ongoing handball World Championships in Egypt as another example of a major sports event being run successfully during the pandemic, in a high-risk country.
“We are able and in a position to offer relevant counter-measures,” he said. “If we would think it wasn’t responsible, or the Games could not be safe, we would not go for it.”
There were reports in Japanese media this morning that the first test event this year for the Tokyo Olympics, an artistic swimming event scheduled for the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on March 4-7, was being pushed back to April or May, due to restrictions on foreigners entering Japan.
Lucia Montanarella, head of Olympic Games Media Operations at the International Sports Press Association (AIPS), told a gathering of journalists on Tuesday that it would not be possible to create a bio-secure bubble for media at the Tokyo Games. Xinhua reported that covering the Olympics would be very challenging this year for reporters and photographers. Among the difficulties, social distancing measures will reduce a large amount of capacity for photographers and other media professionals.
Also following yesterday’s IOC board meeting, Thomas Bach said China’s preparations for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics were well on course. He said the country is taking “very strict measures and restrictions right now, also, with regard to participation in the test events.” Chinese organisers have cancelled a number of test events and reformatted others, in response to the ongoing Covid-19 risk.
Paris 2024 Olympics organising committee chief Tony Estanguet told French newspaper Le Monde he believed Tokyo will go ahead and said that the impact on the planned French Games was so far “quite limited”.
Senior IOC member Dick Pound said he would like to examine the reasons behind recent polls that have suggested up to 80 per cent of the Japanese public are against holding the Tokyo Olympics this July, the Asahi newspaper has reported.
“I would like to scrutinise the reasons and respond,” Pound said. “Are they worried about a large number athletes and others from overseas spreading the coronavirus? Are they against the cost? Or maybe there are people who just don’t like the Olympics.”
He added that, because vaccination could reduce the infection risk, “Personally, I think it’s possible to hold the Games this summer.”
Reuters reported that Israel, one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of the rollout of vaccinations, will have all its Tokyo Olympics athletes vaccinated by May.
The IOC has refuted comments from Tokyo Organising Committee member Haruyuki Takahashi reported in The Wall Street Journal, that the US and its new president Joe Biden would have a big say in whether the Olympics goes ahead.
Takahashi said: “It’s up to the U.S. I hate to say it, but (IOC President) Thomas Bach and the IOC are not the ones who are able to make the decision about the Games. They don’t have that level of leadership.” The same newspaper reported an IOC official as saying Takahashi’s comments were “obsolete” and that he “does not know the facts”.