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Olympic chief Bach calls for ‘patience’ over Tokyo Games

(The rearranged Tokyo Olympics are due to take place from July 23 to Aug 8. Photo: AFP)

LAUSANNE, (AFP):- Olympic chief Thomas Bach called on Wednesday for “patience” over the Tokyo Games, the holding of which this summer are in continued doubt due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tokyo Olympics were originally to have taken place last year but were postponed in the face of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, becoming the first Games in peacetime to suffer that fate.

The IOC and the Japanese organisers rescheduled the Games for July 23 to August 8 this year.

But several media reports have claimed that the Games cannot go ahead, something an exasperated Bach was quick to play down after a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board.

“We’re not losing time or energy on speculation… about whether the Games are taking place,” IOC president Bach said.

“We’re working on how the Games will take place.

“Our task is to organise Olympic Games, not to cancel Olympic Games… and that is why we will not add fuel to this speculation.”

Bach said while the complexity of organising the Games had increased as a result of the virus, “we just have to ask for patience and understanding, is the main message”.

“I think it is too early to decide anything else,” he added.

After the last executive board meeting, the IOC released a statement on December 12, the same day the Pfizer vaccine was approved in the United States, expressing its “full commitment” to staging the Games.

Since then, the emergence of more infectious virus strains has sparked debate on whether the Games can take place and whether it is morally justifiable that competitors be prioritised for vaccination.

“We always have made it clear that we are not in favour of athletes jumping the queue,” Bach stressed.

The German said the IOC was constantly accumulating knowledge on how to organise such a huge event in exceptional circumstances.

“There is no blueprint, we’re learning every day,” Bach said.

He said he understood how people living under lockdown and perhaps unable to even visit a restaurant because of Covid-19 restrictions found it hard to envisage the Games going ahead.

“The responsibility of the (Japanese) government and the IOC is to look beyond this situation,” Bach added.

And, citing the ongoing world handball championships in Egypt — a country he said was deemed high-risk for virus infections — Bach said it was right for the IOC to continue looking to hold the Games.

“We are able and in a position to offer relevant counter-measures,” he said.

“If we would think it wasn’t responsible, or the Games could not be safe, we would not go for it.”

Bach also announced the release of the first version of a “playbook” explaining the “many measures we can imagine to be applied in July and August in Tokyo”.

The document, he said, was “a huge undertaking under daily review” and covered essential issues such as immigration, potential quarantines, transportation in Tokyo, living in the Olympic Village and social distancing.

Officials have long floated the idea that the Games could go ahead without spectators.

It is an idea many sportspeople have backed, as long as they get a tilt at an Olympic medal.

“I want fans to be there, but the most important thing for a player is for the event to go ahead and be able to play,” Japanese table tennis star Mima Ito told AFP.

Australia and Canada — who both pulled their teams before the initial postponement of the Games last year — and the United States have come out in support of the rescheduled Olympics.

Greek pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi — who led calls for last year’s postponement — has said she would prefer the Olympics to be held with no fans than not at all.

Top US gymnast Simone Biles said the decision had to be based on “what’s safe for the world”, but added she was “hoping the Olympics can be put on, even if it means we’re in a bubble”.

But Japanese gymnastics star Kohei Uchimura sounded a note of caution, saying the event “can’t be held if the athletes and the people don’t feel the same way”.

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