The oldest member of the International Olympic Committee said Thursday that the Tokyo Games are “a go”, as IOC officials huddled with local organizers for online discussions.
“There is no indication that there is an elephant in the room that we do not know,” Richard Pound told AFP two months before the scheduled start of the Games, which have already been postponed since last year in due to the pandemic.
Japanese public sentiment is against the mega event, with polls showing a majority in the country want the Olympics to be delayed or canceled altogether.
“Based on everything we know today, it’s a chance,” Pound said, adding, “I have my ticket. “
“If the host country (Japan) does not want to host, it does not host it,” he said, but added that the IOC ultimately retains “the power to cancel the Games if the conditions are sufficient. dangerous ”.
Organizers described numerous virus countermeasures to keep the Olympics safe, including excluding foreign fans for the very first time.
But as Japan grapples with a fourth wave of infections, medical associations have warned the healthcare system is already overburdened and the Games could add even more stress.
As currently planned, there will be less “party stuff, the streets (not) filled with athletes and spectators and so on.” The excitement of being in an Olympic city is going to be a lot more subdued, ”Pound said.
Athletes will be tested for Covid-19 at Tokyo airport upon arrival, then isolated at the Olympic Village. After the competition, they will be asked to leave the country quickly.
“It won’t have all of the frills, bells and whistles that we expect,” he said. “That kind of atmosphere won’t be there. “
But “there will be Olympic competitions and athletes from 206 countries should participate”.
– ‘Just persevere’ –
Pound, a former Canadian swimming champion who later became the first president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, acknowledged Japan’s setback against the Games, but downplayed his likelihood of forcing a cancellation.
He drew parallels with the 1984 Games in Los Angeles where there were concerns “about the number of Olympic athletes who were going to die from smog” and a Zika virus epidemic before the 2016 Games in Rio. from Janeiro.
“It was not the right season and the wrong zone (for Zika), but people still thought Zika would wipe out the crowds and the athletes,” he said. Ultimately, no foreign visitor to the Rio Games contracted the virus.
“So you have to expect some of these things and persevere,” he said, adding that “communications could be better to try to reassure the general public”.
“At the moment, the big question is whether there will be spectators and if so, what percentage of theaters will be available. “
He said the IOC had agreed, in addition to banning foreign spectators, to halve the number of people with Olympic responsibilities entering Japan from overseas for the Olympics, which take place on July 23. to August 8.
If the Games are called off at the last minute, Pound said, “there would certainly be massive disappointment from athletes, (and) around the world that this opportunity could not be seized. “
The IOC, the sponsors, the broadcasters and “almost everyone involved in the risks” of hosting the world’s premier sporting event, he said, are insured for this eventuality.
The financial losses resulting from a cancellation “would be significant”.
But that “would not put the whole international sports system or the Olympic movement in a desperate situation”, assured Pound. “Of course, the belts would have to be tightened a bit, but that would certainly not cause financial ruin. “
This would be unfortunate for the competitors, however, as “three out of four Olympic athletes get a kick in the box,” he said.
The Games have only been canceled three times, due to World War I in 1916 and World War II in 1940 and 1946.
The coronavirus pandemic, Pound said, is certainly the biggest “existential threat since the Spanish flu” (1918-1920), but he added that vaccines now exist for it, and “we know how to prevent transmission with it. masks, social distancing and all that kind of stuff.
© 2021 AFP