No deadline for how Tokyo Games will be organised: IOC chief

Updated 11 Sep 2020

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IOC president Thomas Bach (above R) holding a remote press conference following an executive board meeting at the IOC headquarters.—AFP
IOC president Thomas Bach (above R) holding a remote press conference following an executive board meeting at the IOC headquarters.—AFP

LAUSANNE: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confidence in its preparations and in Japanese government support for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, but said all scenarios would be discussed in the coming weeks amid the ongoing novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

IOC President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday that his organisation was committed to delivering safe Games and had the full support of the Japanese government following the resignation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but the look of next year’s Games was still unclear.

“In the coming weeks you will see important and intensive discussions taking place with regard to different scenarios to Covid-19 counter measures,” Bach told a news conference following an executive board meeting. “We remain focused on delivering safe and successful Games next year.”

The Tokyo 2020 Games were postponed to next year in an unprecedented decision in March as the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the globe.

Bach said while several aspects of the Games’ organisation, such as international spectators or qualifications processes, needed to be finalised months in advance, no deadline for those had yet been set.

“At some stage before the Games we will have to take these relevant decisions but right now I am not in a position to give you a concrete answer. We don’t know how the world looks like tomorrow,” Bach remarked.

Qualification for the Games starts months before the event while international travel for the Olympics is also usually booked months or even years in advance.

The rearranged Tokyo Games must be held ‘at any cost’ in 2021, Japan’s Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto had said on Tuesday.

“The situations are changing day by day when you look at different travel restrictions around the world,” Bach said. “This is one of the examples which have direct impact on our planning.”

He said progress in rapid testing and vaccine developments would play a role until next year and would also influence Games plans.

“But I do not know about a deadline for the reason that we don’t really know the environment we will be in next year,” Bach said. “It is too early to set the deadline. How could you expect us to know how the world looks like in 316 days?”

The 2020 Games were put off in a historic decision and are now set to open on July 23, 2021.

“In the coming weeks you will see important and intensive discussions taking place with regard to the different scenarios regarding the Covid-19 counter-measures,” Bach said. “Overall we will of course continue to follow the principle that has driven all our decisions so far with regard to Tokyo and that means to organise the Olympic Games in a safe environment for all people involved next summer.”

The IOC’s taskforce, Bach said, was preparing for a multitude of different scenarios.

“That’s not easy, but of course social distancing is under consideration,” he said. “We’re also following very closely what’s happening with the development of rapid testing and developments of vaccination and vaccines because this could also have an affect and could then facilitate the preparations.

“It’s just too early to give a concrete answer to what will be the final scenario and the final approach.”

Bach further acknowledged the taskforce was closely following big sporting events around the world to examine how they were organised.

But Bach insisted he thought ‘we can be cautiously optimistic’. “According to our information and the contact we have with experts, the World Health Organisation, but also with pharmaceutical companies and what we are seeing on the market, we will see a great progress with regards to rapid testing for instance which will greatly influence the planning and scenario.

“They will not be the ‘silver bullet’ but they can greatly facilitate the organisation of the Games and hopefully already events in the lead up to the Games.”

Bach also played down comments by John Coates, the IOC’s Coordination Commission for the Tokyo Games, that the Games would take place ‘with or without Covid’.

“Mr Coates, like the entire IOC, is fully committed to the principle we always apply: Olympic Games in a safe environment for all participants,” Bach said.

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2020