GENEVA — IOC president Thomas Bach hit back at continuing speculation about if the Tokyo Olympics may be cancelled or postponed again, saying Wednesday that such talk is damaging for the thousands of athletes preparing to take part this year.
The International Olympic Committee and organizers in Japan have repeatedly insisted there is no Plan B for the Tokyo Games, which were already postponed by one year during the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Japan’s government quickly and firmly dismissed a report that it had concluded the games would have be cancelled . However, talk about whether the games can go ahead refuses to go away.
“All these speculations are hurting the athletes in their preparations,” Bach said after a monthly meeting of the IOC executive board.
The Tokyo Games are scheduled to open on July 23, with 11,000 athletes competing in 33 sports. A total of 61% of entry places — more than 6,700 — have been earned and confirmed, the IOC said.
Bach noted that athletes don't need more distractions as they already have “to overcome the challenges in their daily training and competitions with all the restrictions they are facing.”
“We want not to destroy any Olympic dream of any athlete,” the IOC leader said, noting that not even scientists can know the global health situation in six months' time. “For all these reasons we are not losing our time and energy on speculations."
The Times of London’s report last week quoted an anonymous senior official in Japan suggesting the country could focus on hosting in 2032. That’s the next available Summer Games after Paris hosts in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028.
“I want to say ‘good luck’ if you would have to discuss this with an athlete who is preparing for the Olympic Games 2021,” Bach said Thursday.
However, Bach stopped short of assuring the games will open on time. Similar pledges were made at IOC news conferences last March and three weeks later the games were postponed.
Asked about vaccination programs, Bach repeated that athletes and workers at the Olympics are advised to be inoculated but it would not be mandatory to enter Japan.
“We are not in favour of athletes jumping the queue,” he said.
The 206 national Olympic bodies have been urged by the IOC to liaise with their governments about the place of sports in vaccination programs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the other major gathering of Olympic officials this year.
The IOC's annual meeting, where Bach is set to be re-elected unopposed as president, will now take place online instead of in a conference hall in Athens.
Bach said the virtual meeting will keep its March 10-12 dates, and Athens will host the annual meeting in 2025. That is when the next president will be elected after Bach reaches the limit of 12 years leading the Olympic body.
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Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press