Rescheduled Tokyo Games may come before summer 2021: Bach

Updated March 26, 2020

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OFFICIALS take souvenir photos on Wednesday next to the Olympic cauldron as they start to remove the decorations at J-Village, a national football training centre in Naraha Town, Fukushima Prefecture, where the Olympic Torch Relay was supposed to start from.—Reuters
OFFICIALS take souvenir photos on Wednesday next to the Olympic cauldron as they start to remove the decorations at J-Village, a national football training centre in Naraha Town, Fukushima Prefecture, where the Olympic Torch Relay was supposed to start from.—Reuters

LAUSANNE: The head of the global Olympic movement said on Wednesday the rescheduled Tokyo Games faced “thousands” of logistical and financial problems but could go ahead before summer 2021.

Though most people have assumed the Games will be held around roughly the same July-August timetable as they were planned for this year, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said earlier dates in 2021 were possible.

“The agreement is that we want to organise these Games at the latest in the summer 2021,” he told a conference call. “This is not restricted just to the summer months. All the options are on the table including the summer 2021.”

A taskforce, named ‘Here We Go’, had been created to examine the issue, Bach added, saying the first port of call would be with the 33 international federations, likely starting with a conference call on Thursday.

“The first step, we have to see with them, to see what the options are. We also have to take into account the sports calendar around the Olympic Games,” the German said. “We want, and we will, organise the Games only in a safe environment.”

The IOC agreed with Japan on Tuesday to the first postponement in the Olympics’ 124-year history due to risks from the coronavirus impact.

It was the last major international sporting event of 2020 to be cancelled, with many questioning why a seemingly inevitable decision took so long to make as the coronavirus epidemic raged around the world.

Athletes were sad but largely relieved, given disruption to their training. The decision was a huge blow to Japan, which has invested $12 billion in the run-up, and presents a massive headache to reorganise logistics, funding and sponsorship.

Bach said he could not guarantee all elements of the Games would remain as initially planned. For example, he did not know what would happen with the athletes’ village, where apartments were set to be sold after the Games this year.

Touted by developers as a “flagship neighbourhood for urban lifestyles”, the buildings housing the 11,000 competitors were to be hastily repurposed into more than 4,000 condos with stunning city views, some carrying a price tag of 170 million yen ($1.5 million).

“This is one of the many thousands of questions this task force will have to address. We hope and we will do whatever we can so that there is an Olympic village, the village is where the heart of the Games beat,” he said.

“Of course, I’d be very, very delighted if we could have the Olympic Village in the traditional form. Everybody who has once lived in an Olympic Village knows that this is the real Olympic experience, that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“Living under one roof with the whole world, sharing your meals together, celebrating together, discussing together, and forming this unique Olympic unity.”

Bach also warned the $12 billion price tag for the Games would rise further, with additional costs for everyone involved.

“Our mission is to organise Games and make dreams of athletes come true,” he added. “We have no blueprint but we are confident we can put a beautiful jigsaw puzzle together and in the end have wonderful Olympic Games.”

One potential problem looks easily resolved. Sponsors whose IOC deals expire this year will continue through the rescheduled games, which will still be called the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They include Dow, General Electric and P&G.

“We see their full support for this, Bach said. “For me, it’s a logical consequence that the sponsors ... keep their rights even if the games are organised in 21.”

Bach, a 66-year-old German lawyer and former Olympic fencing champion, also said outright cancellation was discussed, even though the IOC had long insisted that was not an option.

“Of course cancellation was discussed and considered like all options on the table, but it was very clear from the beginning that cancellation should not be something the IOC would in any way favour,” Bach said.

The IOC has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks from athletes and teams calling for the Games to be postponed and unhappy with the slow decision-making compared to other sports events.

Asked whether he considered resigning over his organisation’s handling of the issue, Bach said: “No”.

In talks with athletes’ representatives and national Olympic committees last week, no-one opposed the IOC’s stance, he added. After repeatedly insisting the Games were on as scheduled, the IOC at the weekend announced a month of consultations over possible postponement, before seemingly bowing to global pressure for a faster judgement.

The body is due to start talks from Thursday with other global sporting bodies as moving the gigantic Olympics event has a knock-on effect for many other competitions.

“We are in an unprecedented situation. I guess these postponed Olympic Games will need sacrifices, will need compromises by all stakeholders,” he added.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2020