Bach expresses confidence in Tokyo Games even as virus cases surge

The IOC will arrange to ensure vaccination of both participants and visitors before they arrive in Japan

REUTERS November 16, 2020


International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach expressed confidence on Monday that the Tokyo Games will be held successfully next year, even allowing spectators, despite a sharp rise in coronavirus infections worldwide.

Bach's two-day visit to Tokyo is likely to boost Japan's efforts to stage the Olympics, despite a public worried about the spread of the virus.

His key topics of discussion with organisers include whether to allow spectators and ensuring safe accommodation for more than 11,000 athletes arriving from across the world.

The visit is Bach's first to the Japanese capital since he and former prime minister Shinzo Abe decided in March to postpone the 2020 Games to next year.

On Monday, Bach fist-bumped with Japan's new premier, Yoshihide Suga, and told Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike they could be confident a vaccine would be available by next summer.

The IOC will arrange to ensure vaccination of both participants and visitors before they arrive in Japan, he added.

"In order to protect the Japanese people, and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that ... the Olympic participants and visitors will arrive here vaccinated if, by then, a vaccine is available," he said.

The IOC was now "very confident" that spectators would be able to attend the Games, he added.

News of a potentially successful vaccine from Pfizer Inc has lifted hopes for the staging of the Games, but public opinion in Japan remains mixed.

Nearly 70% of respondents in a July poll told NHK, a public broadcaster that the event should be further postponed or canceled.

In contrast, most Japanese firms want the Games to go ahead next summer, even though they admit the event's contribution to the economy would be limited.

Last week Japan reported record new daily virus cases, though it has not suffered the high deaths seen elsewhere.

Bach called next year's games a "light at the end of the tunnel" after the world's pandemic battle, and pointed to recent sporting competitions in Japan as proof that events could already take place safely.

This month, Tokyo successfully hosted an international gymnastics meet at which organisers tested a range of COVID-19 countermeasures.

On his Tokyo visit, Bach also awarded Abe the Olympic Order in gold, the IOC's highest accolade.

When premier, Abe made himself all but synonymous with Tokyo 2020, even famously appearing as video game character Mario at the closing ceremony of the Rio Games in 2016.

Later on Monday, Bach will hold a news conference with the head of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, and on Tuesday he is due to visit the newly-built National Stadium.


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