SYDNEY (REUTERS, AFP) – Top Olympic official John Coates said on Saturday (May 8) that while Japanese sentiment turning against the Tokyo Games was a “concern”, he could foresee no scenario under which the sporting showpiece would not go ahead.
Questions have been raised about the viability of staging the Games in July and August with Tokyo in a fresh state of emergency as Japan continues to struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Coates, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) point man for the Games as chair of the coordination commission, said he had no doubt that the Games, already postponed by a year because of the pandemic, would proceed as planned.
“Absolutely, it’s going ahead,” he told reporters after hosting the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) annual general meeting in Sydney.
“The Prime Minister of Japan said that to the President of the United States two or three weeks ago. He continues to say that to the IOC.”
Coates’ optimism was earlier mirrored by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which on Friday backed the IOC, Japan and host city Tokyo to make the right choices in managing the Covid-19 risks surrounding the pandemic-postponed 2020 Games.
The United Nations health agency said certain safety decisions regarding athletes, spectators and the Olympic village and venues could only be taken closer to the Games, which are due to open on July 23.
“It’s not whether we will have an Olympics or not – it’s how those individual risks within that framework are being managed,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a press conference in Geneva.
The WHO said it was down to the Japanese authorities to decide what level of public attendance could take place at Olympic events.
The organisers are due to decide in June how many fans – if any – will be allowed at the Games, with overseas spectators already barred from attending.
He said the authorities would have to create an environment of safety around the venues.
“Some of those decisions cannot be made until closer to the event, because it will depend on the epidemiologic situation at that time. So there’s not a failing at all on behalf of the organisers that they haven’t made certain decisions,” said Ryan.
A virus state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of Japan was extended on Friday, with restrictions also imposed in more regions as cases surge.
Coates expressed confidence that the “playbook” of health requirements for all participants unveiled by organisers last week was “a guide for a safe and successful Games”.
There is growing opposition in Japan towards the Olympics proceeding, however, and more than 230,000 people have signed a petition calling for them to be cancelled.
“That is a concern,” Coates added. “I think that there’s a correlation between the numbers who are concerned about their safety with the numbers who have been vaccinated in Japan.
“And the numbers are very small, particularly amongst the elderly. And so as the vaccine is rolled out in Japan, I think that will improve.”
He said it was also important for organisers to relay to the Japanese public the effectiveness of the precautions put in place to protect them, as illustrated by the ongoing Olympic test events in Tokyo.
“These measures we’ve been taking and trialling at the test events are working,” the IOC vice-president added. “The athletes at the test events are in a similar Olympic bubble to that they will be at the Games.”
Coates also hit out at the suggestion that the IOC was ploughing ahead with the Games “at all costs” to fulfil lucrative contracts with broadcasters and sponsors.
“If we were doing that, we would have pushed ahead with them last year. We didn’t,” he said.
“I don’t want these kids to miss the one opportunity they have in their lifetime. We’re doing it so these kids can fulfil their dreams.”
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