The postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics will go ahead next year regardless of the coronavirus pandemic, IOC Vice President John Coates told AFP Monday, vowing they will be the “games that conquered COVID.”

The Olympics have never been canceled for reasons other than war and Coates, speaking during an interview conducted via telephone, was adamant the Tokyo Games will start on their revised date.

“It will take place with or without COVID,” said Coates, who heads the IOC’s Coordination Commission for the Tokyo Games. “The games will start on July 23 next year.

“The games were going to be, their theme, the Reconstruction Games after the devastation of the tsunami,” he said, referring to a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tohoku region in 2011.

“Now very much these will be the games that conquered COVID, the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The 2020 Games were postponed in March because of the global pandemic.

Japan’s borders, however, are still largely closed to foreign visitors and a vaccine is months, or even years, away, feeding speculation about whether or not it’s feasible to hold the Olympics.

Japanese officials have made it clear the games will not be delayed a second time.

There are signs public enthusiasm in Japan is waning after a recent poll found just 1 in 4 Japanese people want the Olympics to go ahead next year, with most backing either another postponement or a cancellation.

The Japanese flag and the Olympic Rings are seen outside the Olympic Museum in Tokyo on Aug. 24. | AFP-JIJI
The Japanese flag and the Olympic Rings are seen outside the Olympic Museum in Tokyo on Aug. 24. | AFP-JIJI

Coates said Japan’s leaders “haven’t dropped the baton at all” following the postponement, despite the “monumental task” of pushing the event back a year.

“Before COVID, (IOC president) Thomas Bach said this is the best prepared games we’ve ever seen, the venues were almost all finished, they are now finished, the village is amazing, all the transport arrangements, everything is fine,” he said.

“Now it’s been postponed by one year, that’s presented a monumental task in terms of re-securing all the venues … something like 43 hotels we had to get out of those contracts and renegotiate for a year later.

“Sponsorships had to be extended a year, broadcast rights.”

With much of that work underway, or accomplished, a task force has been set up to look at the different scenarios in 2021 — from how border controls will affect the movement of athletes, to whether fans can pack venues and how to keep stadiums safe.

The group, which is comprised of Japanese and IOC officials, met for the first time last week.

“Their job now is to look at all the different countermeasures that will be required for the games to take place,” said Coates, the longtime president of the Australian Olympic Committee.

“Some countries will have it (COVID) under control, some won’t. We’ll have athletes therefore coming from places where it’s under control and some where it is not.

“There’s 206 teams… so there’s a massive task being undertaken on the Japanese side.”

On Friday, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said the organizers hope to avoid a games without spectators — something that’s been raised given Japan is still placing limits on how many fans can attend sporting events.

Japan has already put billions of dollars into the Olympics, with the delay only adding to the cost.

Coates said the IOC was doing its part, putting in “something like an extra $800 million to support the international federations, whose income isn’t happening this year, and national Olympic Committees.”

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