Olympic boss Thomas Bach promised not to bring new virus risks to Japan as it hosts the "most-followed” games ever, trying to build support for an event met with tepid public support and tarnished by a recent series of gaffes.
International Olympics Committee President Bach met Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday to discuss safety measures for the Tokyo Olympics that start in just nine days. The meeting comes a day after Bach made an embarrassing flub when he met organizers in Tokyo, and referred to locals as "Chinese people.” He quickly corrected his mistake but it caught international attention.
"With the Olympic community making all our efforts, and the Japanese people have all our commitment to contribute in the best way to fight this virus and not to bring any risk to the Japanese people,” Bach told reporters after meeting Suga. "The very strict anti-COVID measures in the playbooks, they are in place, they are enforced and they are working.”
The Tokyo Games start July 23 and due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be the first held without spectators since the modern Olympic movement started in the late 19th century. The stakes are enormous for Suga, whose political fortunes are closely tied to a successful games, and for the International Olympic Committee, which faces scrutiny on whether it may be putting the money that comes with the global sports spectacle ahead of public health.
Suga has pledged to hold a safe and secure Olympics but polls show a large part of the public wants the games to be called off or delayed due to fears it could become a superspreader event in a country that lags behind its Group of Seven peers in vaccinations.
"These Olympic Games will write history for another reason because they will be the most-followed Olympic games ever in the Olympic history,” Bach said. The IOC chief added that about 85% of the residents in the Olympic Village will arrive in Japan vaccinated and almost 100% of the IOC members and staff will be as well.
Local organizers, Suga’s government and the IOC have put in place a slew of measures to test for the coronavirus and prevent any infections from spreading.
"Our common target is safe and secure games for everybody,” Bach said Tuesday. "For the athletes, for all the delegations and most importantly also for the Chinese people … Japanese people.”
The same day that Bach tripped over his words, four electricians from the United States and the United Kingdom who were in Japan for work related to the Olympics were arrested over allegations of using cocaine, public broadcaster NHK said. Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa said if the allegations proved to be true, it could damage the image of the games, Kyodo News reported.
Bach spent three days in quarantine at a Tokyo hotel after arriving last week. He is set to visit Sapporo and Fukushima, which will host events, as well as Hiroshima on Friday to show the IOC’s commitment to peace, Kyodo said, adding that a local civic group is demanding he call off the visit, which it sees as politically motivated and dishonoring the survivors of the 1945 atomic bombing.
There are no spectators allowed at events in Tokyo, where a spike in infections prompted Suga to reimpose a state of emergency on the capital from Monday this week that will last throughout the games.
Even though almost all Olympic events in the Tokyo region will be spectator-free, pro sports in Japan including baseball, soccer and sumo have been in action in front of fans — albeit with restrictions on numbers, mandatory mask wearing and instructions not to vocally cheer. Several warmup matches for the Olympics have also been held in various parts of the country with similar restrictions for fans.
As the games draw near, the Olympic Village in Tokyo opened its doors to athletes this week, and the White House on Tuesday said First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Tokyo for the opening ceremony, pressing ahead with the trip amid a virus surge in the city.
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