TOKYO – The rescheduled 2020 Olympics will continue even if a state of emergency is declared in the city this summer, a senior Olympic gold medalist said on Friday, again rejecting the suggestion that the coronavirus pandemic is a postponement or cancellation of a global sports showcase could force that has already been delayed by a year.
“We successfully held five sporting events in a state of emergency,” said John Coates, Vice President of the International Olympic Committee, during a press conference at the end of a three-day virtual meeting to discuss preparations. “All plans to protect the safety of athletes are based on the worst of circumstances. So the answer is absolutely yes. “
Polls in Japan have shown that a significant majority of citizens would prefer another postponement or cancellation of the Games, which are due to open on July 23 – nine weeks before Friday – and early August.
In a letter sent to national Olympic committees, athletes, broadcasters and others on Friday, Coates, who chairs the IOC’s Tokyo Coordinating Commission, said the organization was now “very much delivery-focused.”
“We’re doing it for the athletes,” Coates said in his press conference. “The athletes’ desire is higher than ever before. We want to give athletes the opportunity to take part in competitions. “
Coates said the latest polls reflect the mood in the country at the moment, but that “I expect public opinion will improve as the number of vaccinations increases”.
But if the public’s opinion does not improve, he said, “Then our position is, we just have to make sure that we get on with our work. Our job is to ensure that these games are safe for all participants and anyone who might come into contact with the participants. “
Coates said he expected 80 percent of the athletes who came to the Games would be vaccinated, noting that some countries – including his native Australia – vaccinate journalists and others go to the Games.
Japan stands behind many wealthy countries in delivering coronavirus vaccines to its citizens – only 4.1 percent of the population have received doses – and currently only health workers and the elderly are eligible.
To speed up vaccinations, Japan on Friday approved Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines for use in adults, giving the country much-needed new options. So far, only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in Japan.
Japan is in the midst of a fourth wave of infections, and Tokyo and eight other prefectures are in a state of emergency that will last at least until the end of this month. Japan has reported about 5,500 cases per day, compared to about 1,000 per day in early March.
Seiko Hashimoto, President of the Organizing Committee, outlined measures she believed would keep the Games safe, including additional medical staff and testing. However, she acknowledged that many in Japan “feel uncomfortable at the prospect of overseas people coming and mingling”.
Members of the news media and others at the Games will have restricted their travel and access to athletes, organizers said. When asked about these limits, Toshiro Muto, the Games’ manager, replied that the rules “are based on consultations with various parties and we believe they are scientifically necessary”.
He said the so-called Olympic news media playbook – an evolving list of guidelines by organizers – was not created to restrict their ability to freely report or move around Japan.
“The game book was not put together to restrict the freedom of the press,” he said. “These are Covid-19 countermeasures to protect people’s lives.”
Hikari Hida contributed to the coverage.