Hoping to boost morale in Japan by assuring people that the Tokyo Olympics will be held as scheduled, IOC President Thomas Bach held a conference call limited to three of Japan’s main media outlets — newspapers Asahi and Yomiuri, and the Kyodo news agency.
Bach was responding to comments made earlier in the week by IOC member Dick Pound in an interview with The Associated Press. Pound said a decision on the Tokyo Olympics — facing a fast-spreading virus from China — would need to be made by the end of May.
Australian member John Coates, who heads the IOC inspection team for Tokyo, suggested a similar time frame. Both Pound and Coates are former IOC vice-presidents.
The Olympics open on July 24, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 25.
The International Olympic Committee provided the AP with a transcript of Thursday’s call. The questions have been shortened for length and clarity. The answers are in full.
Bach’s opening statement: “The preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 are continuing with a view to having successful Olympic Games this summer in Tokyo and to reassure the athletes and to encourage them to go ahead full steam with regard to their training and their preparations for what we expect to be very successful Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.”
Q: There are so many reports in the Japanese media, especially on the internet, citing Mr. Dick Pound’s interview. He set a date and time limit for deciding whether to cancel the games. The word “cancellation” is everywhere now, even in parliament. He also compared the spread of the virus to a wartime situation. Your response, president?
Bach: “I think the facts speak for themselves, and we should also not forget that Dick Pound also said that the IOC is fully committed to have the opening ceremony there on July 24th in Tokyo. And this is in fact what we are working for, and we see great unity and solidarity of the Olympic Movement with regard to that, to the preparations for the games and in particular to the qualification. This is something I must say I’m pretty proud of: to see how so many National Olympic Committees, countries, federations are working together to address this challenge of the virus. Then because you’re mentioning these comparisons with a war. I think any comparison with a world war is out of all proportion.”
Q: In theory, how long could you wait to make a final decision to deliver the games? Is there any option for cancellation or maybe postponement until next year.
Bach: “You gave the answer yourself. You said `theoretically,’ and you will understand that I’m not ready to add fuel to the flames of speculation there in any way. It is about now, not about speculation. What it is now it is to ensure the qualification procedure and protecting the safety of the athletes at the same time. This is what we are doing in co-operation with the Japanese authorities. In co-operation with the World Health Organization, also in co-operation with the Chinese Olympic Committee and the authorities and with many NOCs. Let me give you some examples. Now, the Chinese wrestling team is training in Serbia and travelling from there to the different qualification tournaments. The table tennis team of China is in Qatar. The Chinese women’s basketball team is in Croatia. We have managed to move qualification competitions and tournaments within weeks from China to other countries where the safety of the athletes could be ensured. So based on this, we can really say we are looking forward to successful Olympic Games in Tokyo.”
Q: I just want to confirm the IOC stance. Is there now an option for an alternative plan or having multiple locations. Also, is a one-year delay a realistic option?
Bach: “You can ask me in many more ways around; I will not add fuel to the flames of speculation. The IOC, in co-operation with all the authorities and the NOCs, is fully committed to a successful Olympic Games in Tokyo starting on the 24 July.”
Q: What are the things you think are important for the Japanese to do for safe conditions that satisfy the IOC for staging the games?
Bach: “We have seen the Japanese authorities taking very important measures, just also today. We appreciate the close co-operation with the organizing committee, which is doing everything to ensure the safety of the athletes and all the visitors to Japan. We also see in this respect, again, the great solidarity of the world to contribute to the safety of the games and contribute to successful games. I gave you some examples already. There are many more. We see for instance the Chinese Olympic Committee already planning to get almost all — if not the entire Olympic team — out of the country as soon as possible. And then afterward to get the finally qualified athletes as soon as possible to Japan in order to comply with any medical regulations there may be in place. This determination by Japan, and this great solidarity by the sports movement, and beyond the sports movement, puts us in a position again to say we are continuing our preparations so these are successful games as planned.”
Q: A lot of speculation has created big confusion in Japan. So what are your messages to the Japanese people and people around the world who are looking forward to these Olympics?
Bach: “The IOC is fully committed to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.”
Q: Mr. John Coates is a co-ordination leader for the Tokyo Games. He said to a local Australian newspaper that, as Mr. Dick Pound said, we need to make a decision in three months. But it seems that this is not the official stance of the IOC at the moment. I just want to confirm that.
Bach: “The official position of the IOC is that we are fully committed to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and that we are already now doing everything to ensure not only the success of the games, but also to ensure the qualification and the preparations of the athletes of the world. Because the safety of every participant at the Olympic Games, be it athlete, official, spectator, is the top priority for the IOC and also for the organizing committee of Tokyo 2020.”
Q: So what do you think is the final criteria for making sure the Olympics are on schedule?
Bach: “They are on schedule. The preparation and qualification procedures are going on with great effort, again being made by everybody. By the organizing committee, by Japan, by China, by the IOC, by a big number of NOCs. And all this again with a view to have then after — yes, a challenging but nevertheless successful qualification period — then looking forward to celebrate with the Japanese people together, a successful Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.”