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IOC Vice President: Tokyo Games will ‘100%’ be held this summer

LONDON — The vice president of the International Olympic Committee said the Tokyo Games will “100%” go ahead this summer, despite the pandemic, global disparities in vaccine rollouts and low public support in Japan.


“It’s difficult. It’s difficult, but the Games will take place,” John Coates told Nikkei Asia in a video interview on Wednesday. “The IOC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee, the Japan government, the Tokyo municipal government have been determined to host these games since the pandemic broke in February last year. We’ve maintained our resolve. And we see no impediment to that.”


Decisions on spectator attendance will be made as soon as March or April, Coates said, hinting there may be differing approaches to domestic and overseas attendees. He also noted that the IOC’s worst case scenario planning for the Games is based on no full vaccine roll out, instead focusing on extensive testing and limiting the movement of athletes among other social distancing measures.


Public support for hosting the Games in Japan this summer dropped to 15% in a Nikkei poll published Feb 1. Respondents who supported cancellation stood at 46%, while 36% wanted the Games to be postponed again.


Coates, who is also the chair of the Tokyo 2020 Coordination Commission, said the question of whether to postpone itself was flawed. “It isn’t an option to postpone the Games,” he said.


Since Tokyo 2020 was postponed for the first time last year, countermeasures have been developed, he pointed out, and they aim to make the Olympic Village “the safest place in Japan.”


Some of those countermeasures were jointly published by the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee, and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee on Wednesday, setting out the health and safety measures developed for the Games targeting International Federations. Further similar resources will be published aimed at other stakeholders such as broadcasters and athletes and officials in the coming days.


This announcement, however, was overshadowed by Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori who made sexist remarks the same day. Mori said board meetings with a lot of women “take so much time,” in comments about a government initiative to increase representation of female directors. He apologized on Thursday, but declined to step down.


Whether there can be spectators at the Games, given that COVID-19 thrives in crowded environments, was partly addressed by the publication addressed at international federations which requested visitors refrain from chanting, cheering and singing, among other measures.


The question of how many spectators can be safely present, if at all, will be decided in March or April, Coates said.


However, he pointed out it would be more challenging to have spectators come from overseas.


“It’s much more difficult obviously for foreigners to be tested and get to the Games and we hope they will be there, we hope the parents of the athletes will be there. All of those things, we hope they’d be there to cheer on, but it’s not the most important element for the athletes.”


While athletes want to fulfill their dreams by competing at the Olympics, crowds are not the most important element of the event for them, he pointed out. Despite the big question mark over the presence of a live crowd, sponsors have not abandoned the Games

“We haven’t had any withdrawal of sponsorships. We haven’t had any withdrawal of television rights,” he said.


With the digital environment and worldwide coverage, the amount of people that see the Games at the site are “a very, very small percentage” compared to people who watch it on media, he said,


With countries around the world at varying levels of vaccine rollout, the IOC is currently trying to assess the level of access to vaccines among participating countries. While some may decide to prioritize vaccinating elite athletes, vaccinations themselves will not form a central pillar of planning for Tokyo 2020.


He said, “At the moment, as you know, we’re in winter, we’re proceeding on the basis that the vaccine won’t have been made available around the world for all the teams, and won’t have been made available to everyone in Japan. That may change.”

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