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Asia

Thomas Bach pleads for 'patience' amid Olympic cancellation report

Chief rejects speculation, as organizers prepare playbook of COVID safeguards

Thomas Bach Photo: Getty

/NOVOSTIVL/ The International Olympic Committee on Wednesday sought to tamp down speculation about the Tokyo Summer Games amid reports that cancellation is on the table as COVID-19 infections climb in Japan.

IOC President Thomas Bach said the Switzerland-based body instead was concentrating on how the games can be staged this July.

"All these speculations are hurting the athletes in their preparations," Bach told reporters after a regular IOC executive board meeting.

Asked whether holding the Olympics during a pandemic is a responsible decision, Bach said, "If we think the games would not be safe, we would not go for it."

A playbook of countermeasures will be released early next month, Bach said.

"It is too early [to know] which of the many COVID countermeasures will be the appropriate one when it comes to the time of the games," he said. "We just have to ask for patience and understanding" from the athletes, national Olympic committees, international sports federations and the Japanese people.

Bach and Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori will have a telephone conference on Thursday.

Rumors erupted last week after the Times of London reported that Japanese government officials were privately discussing cancellation.

"No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it's too difficult," said the newspaper's source.

The IOC dismissed the report as "categorically untrue."

But hosting the Olympics has grown increasingly unpopular with the Japanese public, as the country entered a winter of rising infections and COVID-19 variants emerged in several parts of the world.

A recent survey by Japanese broadcaster NHK found that only 16% of respondents think the games should be staged, while 38% supported cancellation and 39% backed a second postponement.

Medical professionals, already overwhelmed by the growing number of patients, also have expressed concerns. Last week, Japan Medical Association chief Toshio Nakagawa said that it is "not possible" to accept foreign patients during the games, given the current infection situation.

It remains unclear whether Japan can obtain enough medical personnel for the games. The government is trying to secure 10,000 medical workers, Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto said Tuesday. Much is riding on whether the country can begin its COVID-19 vaccination drive in February and conclude in time for the games.

During an IOC meeting on Monday with the world's sports federations, Morinari Watanabe, president of the International Gymnastics Federation, cited his November staging of a 30-athlete meet in Tokyo as a blueprint for the larger games.

"I said that the games can be held without vaccination from my experience, in which we succeeded in holding the gymnastics international event last year," Watanabe told Nikkei Asia. "There have been other international sports events including handball in Egypt, judo in Hungary and badminton in Thailand, and they all succeeded."

The Summer Games would bring over 11,000 athletes and support staff to Tokyo. Whether foreign spectators will be allowed into the country remains uncertain, as Japan this month reimposed strict entry requirements on nonresident arrivals. Bach visited Tokyo in November in a bid to instill confidence in Japan's Olympic odyssey.

In Bach's meetings with the federations and national Olympic committees, no one mentioned the possibility of cancellation or postponement, according to an attendee.

Postponing the Tokyo Games for another year would interfere with athlete training schedules and qualifying events for the 2024 Paris Summer Games. The Times of London report said Japan might seek another bid for 2032. Japan has invested at least $12 billion on Olympic preparations, per estimates from government budgets.

"I want to say 'good luck' if you have to discuss this with an athlete who is preparing for the Olympic Games in 2021," Bach said on Wednesday.


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