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IOC remains committed to already postponed Tokyo Olympics

A man wearing a protective face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks with the Olympic rings in the background in the Odaiba section in Tokyo on Dec. 1, 2020.
Eugene Hoshiko, Associated Press

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach left no doubt Wednesday that the upcoming Summer Games in Tokyo will go on as scheduled despite new speculation that the Japanese government wants to cancel the event due to COVID-19.

“We are not speculating on whether the Games are taking place. We are working on how the Games are taking place,” Bach told reporters during a virtual news conference following an IOC Executive Committee meeting, promising that Olympic leaders are “fully concentrated on, and fully committed to” holding a safe Olympics.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who led the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, weighed in via a tweet linking to a Wall Street Journal story that quoted a Japanese Olympic organizer urging U.S. President Joe Biden to back the Tokyo Games going ahead.

Biden hasn’t responded, but Romney tweeted, “Hold the Tokyo Olympic Games. Athletes have trained a lifetime to be at their peak. Limit in-person spectators — most of us watch the Games on TV anyway. The world awaits the inspiration of great competition and global sportsmanship.”

The 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo were already postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, a London newspaper, The Times, posted a story quoting an unnamed senior member of the ruling coalition in the Japanese government saying “the consensus is that it’s too difficult” to proceed with the Summer Games.

Bach said the talk is hurting Olympic athletes preparing to compete in Tokyo and declined to discuss what might cause a cancellation, saying he would “not add fuel to all these kinds of speculations.” He said the Switzerland-based IOC’s “task is to organize Olympic Games and not to cancel Olympic Games.”

A reporter from The Times pressed Bach Wednesday about whether he could understand why some people, including 77% in Japan according to a recent poll, believe it’s irresponsible to hold the world’s largest sporting event as the worldwide outbreak continues to surge.

“It is clearly not irresponsible, and we are able and in a position to offer the relevant countermeasures,” Bach said, such as limiting stays in the athlete village to just five days and urging athletes and other participants to get vaccinated when it is their turn.

If the IOC saw it as “irresponsible, and we would think the Games could not be safe, we would not go for it,” Bach said, adding the safe organization of the Olympics is the guiding principle. He did not, however commit to having spectators at the next Olympics, set to start July 23.

All of the more than 200 national Olympic committees, as well as the international sports federations and the athletes preparing to compete, are “standing behind these Olympic Games,” the IOC president said, promising a “playbook” for holding them in a pandemic will be released early next month.

Salt Lake City, the host of the 2002 Winter Games, is the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s choice to bid for an as-yet-undecided future Winter Games, likely in 2030 or 2034. The impact of COVID-19 on Tokyo has put the dialog with the IOC on hold, but supporters of bringing the Olympics back to Utah continue to ready plans.

“We are just doing our work here at this point because the Tokyo Games have consumed all their attention, appropriately so,” said Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games. He said there are no meetings of the committee currently scheduled.

Bullock, the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games, said the IOC’s approach to hosting the Tokyo Games “is very prudent and wise,” given that sporting events have continued to be held safely around the world, including in Utah, since the pandemic began nearly a year ago.

“One of the most important considerations for Tokyo is for the athletes who want to compete, They have trained their entire lives for this moment and hosting the Games allows them to fulfill their dreams,” he said.

Bach had no comment about the support of the U.S. president for the Tokyo Games sought by Haruyuki Takahashi, a member of the executive board of Japan’s Olympic organizing committee. Takahashi said if Biden “makes a positive statement about the Olympics going ahead, we’d gain strong momentum.”

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has issued a statement of support for the Tokyo Games being held this summer, but Takahashi told the Wall Street Journal he believes it’s key to ensure that the United States, which provides the bulk of corporate sponsorship and broadcast revenues, supports the Tokyo Games being held.

“It’s up to the U.S.,” the Japanese Olympic official said, according to the newspaper. “I hate to say it, but Thomas Bach and the IOC are not the ones who are able to make the decision about the Games. They don’t have that level of leadership,.”

Bach referred to an IOC spokesman’s initial response that called it “regrettable that Mr. Takahashi does not know the facts. First: It is USOPC that decides about the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic team. Second: USOPC has never left a doubt about their participation. Therefore, his comments are obsolete.”

The IOC president said he had nothing to add, and also brushed off reports that Florida is ready to step in as a replacement host for Tokyo. Bach said he has not seen a letter sent by Florida’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, claiming the state that will host the Super Bowl next month could host the Olympics on short notice.

The White House also had little to say about whether Biden would make a statement about the Tokyo Games — or about Florida’s move to take over the event.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters she hasn’t had a chance to talk to Biden about Tokyo, despite being asked several times, Politico reported, and deferred to the IOC about the chances of Florida hosting the Olympics this year.

“Wow,” Psaki said. “Well, that’s a lot of steps that need to take place.”