International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach voiced confidence Thursday that the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead this summer, saying there is "no plan B" even as doubts grow amid a sharp resurgence of coronavirus cases in the Japanese capital and elsewhere.
"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 in an exclusive online interview two days ahead of the six-month countdown toward the Olympics.
"This is why there is no plan B and this is why we are fully committed to make these games safe and successful," he said.
But he hinted at the possibility of reducing the number of spectators, saying the IOC has to be "flexible" to protect the lives of the people involved.
"You may not like it but sacrifices will be needed. This is why I'm saying, safety first, and no taboo in the discussion to ensure safety," the IOC president said.
Japan has been preparing to hold the Summer Games with spectators — even offering quarantine exemptions to fans coming from countries with infections under control. The hosts, however, have said they will make a final decision on whether to welcome spectators by the end of spring.
The Olympics and Paralympics, which were originally scheduled for 2020, were pushed back in March that year after athletes expressed fears over the novel coronavirus, and a number of qualifying events had to be canceled.
While the virus continues to spread across the globe, Bach said the world is now better equipped to prevent infections, brushing aside speculation that the fate of the games may be known in the next two months or so.
"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 (virus) tests," he 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."
Bach said he believes coronavirus vaccines will become available by April or May in many countries. The 67-year-old also said March and April are two important months in terms of deciding how the games will be staged but drawing specific measures against the virus can wait until June.
Reiterating his trust in Japan's anti-virus steps, Bach said he would be "happy" if possible to again visit the country in May, when the nationwide Olympic torch relay will go through the city of Hiroshima, which suffered the devastation of the world's first atomic bombing.
Beyond the Tokyo Games, he said the Beijing Winter Olympics will go ahead in 2022 as planned.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has insisted that the international mega sporting event will be held as scheduled as "proof that humanity defeated the coronavirus."
Still, Japan and the IOC, as well as athletes, face mounting challenges ahead and many questions remain unanswered.
Japan and many other countries have been facing a surge in infections, reporting more daily cases compared with 10 months ago when the games were postponed for one year, and increasing threats of new and more potentially contagious coronavirus variants.
Tokyo has logged more than 1,000 cases of daily infections in recent days, and some other areas of the country are now under a monthlong state of emergency, during which residents are requested to stay at home as much as possible and restaurants asked to close earlier.
The virus has also cast a shadow over the games' qualification process. Only 57% of the Olympic spots had been secured as of March last year when the games were pushed back and many athletes still struggle to train to keep their Olympic hopes alive.
Moreover, as the Olympics approach, Japan has failed to win strong public support for the games as infection cases continue to rise.
An opinion poll by Kyodo News earlier this month found that 80% of respondents want a cancellation or postponement of the games. Only 14% supported hosting them as scheduled, less than half of the percentage in the previous survey in December.
"From a human point of view, I have some understanding," Bach said, given that countless people have been in hard times. "It is difficult to imagine what will happen in six months."
"But at the time of the games, the situation will be different, and the measures being taken will be different," he said. "I am sure that with the improvement of the situation, also these people will think differently."
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