IOC president insists focus is on organising Olympics, not cancelling the Games

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has dismissed renewed speculation surrounding the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games and insisted: “It’s not about the ‘whether’ the Games takes place, it’s about the ‘how’.”

Bach gave short shrift to recent suggestions that the Games could be pushed back in the Olympic cycle or even moved to another city, and rejected suggestions that staging the Games amid the current pandemic may be seen as irresponsible.

But he did concede that the constantly evolving nature of the coronavirus crisis made it impossible to present many guarantees at this stage with regard to the admission of spectators or the precise nature of the ‘bubbles’ that are bound to be put in place.

Bach said: “From a human point of view I can understand everybody who has concerns about the Olympic Games – when he or she is living in lockdown and does not know whether you can go to a restaurant or see your friends and family, these are circumstances in which it is extremely difficult to imagine the Olympic Games.

“But the responsibility of the government and the IOC is to look beyond this situation and to say it’s not about the ‘whether’ the Games takes place, it’s about the ‘how’.

“The organisation of a Games is already a complex challenge, but this complexity is multiplied when it comes to organising a postponed Games for the first time, and under the conditions of a pandemic.

“This is why we are so committed. This is not just something we are taking out of the blue or some wishful thinking – this is based on solid ground.”

An increasing number of athletes have begun to express their frustration over the IOC’s perceived failure to clarify precisely if and how the Games will happen, amid surging global coronavirus rates and rumours of growing resistance within the host nation.

The IOC hopes next week’s publication of the first Games ‘Playbook’ – which informs stakeholders what precisely will be expected of them in Tokyo – will go some way towards mitigating those concerns.

But Bach refused to be drawn on contingency plans or a prospective ‘Plan B’, stressing: “Nobody at this moment can predict the health situation in 206 National Olympic Committees at the time of the Olympics in July.

Rio Olympic Games 2016 – Day Thirteen
Rio Olympic Games 2016 – Day Thirteen

“This leads to speculation and this speculation is hurting the athletes, who have already overcome challenges in their daily training and competition with all the restrictions they are facing.

“Our task is to organise an Olympic Games, not to cancel an Olympic Games. That is why we are working day and night to organise a safe Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020, and this is why we will not add fuel to all these kinds of speculations.

“If we would think it was irresponsible and if we would think the Games would not be safe, we would not go for it.”

Bach repeated the IOC’s stance that the vulnerable and healthcare workers should be prioritised for vaccinations ahead of athletes, and appeared to intimate it was unlikely any proof of vaccination will be required in order to attend the Games.

Furthermore, in a nation which welcomed five-figure crowds to some of its sporting events as recently as December, Bach stopped short of conceding the Games could take place behind closed doors – but indicated the IOC would not hesitate to impose such measures if deemed appropriate.

“Everybody would love to have full capacity stadia and roaring crowds,” added Bach. “But if that is not possible, we will respect our principles and this is that safe organisation (of the Games) is the first priority.”