With COVID-19 surging in Tokyo and public opinion waning against the Olympic Games scheduled for this summer, the International Olympic Committee insists that the Games will go on.
IOC president Thomas Bach told the Kyodo News on Thursday that there’s no “Plan B” for staging the Games that were initially postponed from 2020 amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo,” Bach told Kyodo News. “This is why there is no Plan B, and this is why we are fully committed to make these Games safe and successful.”
COVID-19 spike in Japan
Bach’s statement arrives amid a spike of COVID-19 cases that prompted Japan to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo on Jan. 7 for the first time since the onset of the pandemic last April. Japan has eclipsed more than 5,000 new daily cases multiple times in recent weeks after keeping daily cases below 2,000 for the entirety of the pandemic prior to November.
Mass vaccinations aren’t expected to start in Tokyo until May, just weeks before the scheduled start of the Games, according to the New York Times.
Public overwhelmingly against hosting Games this summer
According to a January poll conducted by Japanese broadcaster NHK, 77% of the country’s citizens are in favor of canceling or postponing the Games again.
A London Times report on Thursday cited a Japanese government source casting doubt on the nation’s willingness to host the Games this summer.
“No one wants to be the first to say so, but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” the source told the London Times. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai denied the London Times report, saying there is “no truth” to it in a Friday press conference. The Tokyo organizing committee also denied the claim in a statement that it’s “fully focused" on hosting the Games, according to Reuters.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee issued a statement Thursday in response to the skepticism over the commencement of the Games.
“We have not received any information suggesting the Games will not happen as planned, and our focus remains on the health and preparedness of Team USA athletes ahead of the Games this summer,” the statement reads.
IOC’s hard line on holding games
The IOC insisted last year that the Games would go on as originally scheduled in the summer of 2020 as sports leagues around the world shut down when the realities of the pandemic became clear. The governing body eventually conceded in March that the Games “must be rescheduled” amid mounting pressure from public health experts, organizing committees and athletes. The decision arrived more than a week after leagues like the NBA and Premier League suspended play.
IOC vice president John Coates was adamant in September that the postponed Games would go on no matter what upon their rescheduled start date.
“It will take place with or without Covid,” Coates told AFP on Sept. 6. “The Games will start on July 23 next year.”
On Thursday, Bach painted a more optimistic picture of the pandemic now than during its onset last spring despite a global failure to rein in the coronavirus.
“First of all, let me be clear that you cannot compare March 2021 with March 2020 because there is such great progress in science, medicine, vaccination and tests,” Bach said. “All this was not available in March last year. Nobody knew yet how really to deal with the pandemic, and now we know much more.”
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