Finish line within touch, Tokyo Olympics pointman says of GamesFriday, May 21, 2021
TOKYO, Japan (AFP) — The Olympic pointman for the Tokyo Games said Friday that the finish line was within touching distance, insisting that it would be safe for athletes and the Japanese population despite ongoing risks from COVID-19.
John Coates, vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and head of the IOC's coordination commission for Tokyo, told a virtual press conference with local organisers that the July 23-August 8 Games would go ahead even if the city of Tokyo remains in a state of emergency.
"After eight years, the finish line is within touching distance," he said of the Olympics that were postponed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The IOC, the Australian added, would work with Japanese officials to "deliver a safe and secure Games for everyone".
"The Games will be safe for everyone participating and the Japanese people.
"These are unique circumstances. We've never had a postponed Games before."
The Games have only been cancelled on three occasions, because of World War I in 1916 and due to World War II in 1940 and 1946.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee, admitted there was a portion of the local population "who feel uneasy at the prospect of people coming in from overseas and mixing".
She also acknowledged that some were troubled by the risk of overburdening Japan's medical resources.
Japan has seen a relatively small coronavirus outbreak, with around 12,000 deaths overall, but a recent surge in infections has put hospitals under strain, medics say.
Nine regions including Tokyo are currently under a virus state of emergency that runs until May 31.
- 'Public opinion will improve' -
Hashimoto said she had "three thoroughs", stressing that there would be a "thorough reduction of inbound population, a thorough restriction in behaviour, and a thorough review of the medical regime".
Japan was currently "in the process of adjusting the number of stakeholders arriving to narrow it down to the minimum", she said.
There will be an estimated 50-60,000 COVID tests carried out daily, with processing handled privately. Hashimoto said there would be 230 Japanese doctors and 310 nurses on daily duty for the Olympics, adding that nurses could be asked to come out of retirement to help out.
"We're doing everything possible so that the Games are safe for participants and people in Japan," said Coates.
Coates also played down recent polls that have shown an overwhelming response from the Japanese people for a cancellation or further postponement of the Games, saying there was likely a "correlation between poll numbers and vaccination" rollout for the Japanese, which remains relatively low.
"Public opinion will improve," he said, adding that if it didn't, "we just make sure we get on with our job".
Christophe Dubi, IOC's Olympic Games executive director, was quick to add that organisers had a "duty to inform and be transparent with where we are with measures".
Organisers have outlined extensive virus countermeasures to keep the Olympics safe, including barring overseas fans for the first time ever. The number of people with Olympic responsibilities entering Japan from overseas for the Games has also been halved.
"The public must be kept informed because information helps to reassure," Dubi said, citing the "playbook" laying out what measures athletes and other stakeholders will have to abide by before entry to Japan and during their stay.
Asked why the IOC was pushing ahead with the Games, Coates said: "We're doing it for the athletes. The desire of the athletes is as high as ever.
"We want to give athletes the opportunity to compete."