The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is going full steam ahead with the preparations for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. They sent out a press release on Wednesday stating that they aim to “deliver Olympic and Paralympic Games fit for a post-corona world next year.”
This statement comes after recent news about a joint coronavirus vaccine created by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech who announced that the vaccine is 90% effective among people without signs of prior infection. This efficacy rate surpasses the goals of White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci (who considers 50% or 60% acceptable) and scientists who are aiming for a 75% efficacy rate.
These promising vaccine breakthroughs give more substance to a determined statement made by IOC vice president John Coates in an interview in September that “these will be the Games that conquered Covid.” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga echoed this confidence in October, telling the United Nations General Assembly, “Japan is determined to host the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as proof that humanity has defeated the pandemic.”
At the same time, coronavirus cases are on the rise globally and experts expect an even higher holiday travel-induced spike. The Games organizers must also consider the unknowns and timeline of the vaccine distribution process. In light of this continued state of uncertainty, the IOC is mapping out “playbooks” of safety precautions to implement during the Games.
These discussions took place at the IOC, International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and Tokyo 2020 Project Review meetings on November 16th and 18th. Coates and IOC president Thomas Bach attended the meetings from the 2021 Olympic host country itself.
Organizers told the New York Times that the Games’ safety precautions may include reducing the amount of athletes who stay in the Olympic Village and having the athletes return home as soon as they’ve finished competing.
Organizers said Wednesday that they might limit the number of nights athletes could stay in the Olympic Village, asking them to leave immediately after their competitions – 😭😭😭
— Cameron van der Burgh OIS (@Cameronvdburgh) November 19, 2020
The IOC press release explained that their work to detail these “COVID-19 countermeasures” is still an ongoing process as they discuss strategies and continue to learn from the coronavirus restarts of other “top tier sports,” specifically professional baseball and football. They aim to create a “toolbox of measures ready to implement depending on the situation next July,” but their full safety plan has not been finalized yet.
The IOC then cited the recent success of the Friendship and Solidarity Competition hosted in November by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) and the Japan Gymnastics Association in Yoyogi National Stadium. A total of 30 Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and American athletes competed in front of more than 2,000 spectators under strict COVID-19 safety protocols. The same venue is set to host the handball, badminton and wheelchair rugby competitions at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.
This push to overcome COVID-19 or to at least implement ample safety measures is further motivated by the infeasibility of postponing the Tokyo Games any longer. The coronavirus pandemic has already delayed the Tokyo Games, which were originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, by one year. According to a study by the University of Oxford, this process put the price tag of hosting the Tokyo Games at $15.84 billion, nearly tripling the original budget. IOC member Dick Pound told CBC Sports in April that if the Tokyo Games don’t happen next summer, they won’t happen at all.
Currently there have been 55.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and 1.34 million deaths. Japan’s COVID-19 case total of 123,000 is relatively low on the global scale, but the country reported 534 new cases on Thursday, surpassing 500 new cases in one day for the first time since the pandemic began.
Full Press Release From the International Olympic Committee:
November 18, 2020
IOC back in Tokyo as world prepares for next year’s Games
For the first time since February 2020, the IOC’s Coordination Commission Chair, John Coates, returned to Japan with IOC President Thomas Bach for the joint International Olympic Committee (IOC), International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and Tokyo 2020 Project Review.
The meetings, held between 16 and 18 November, reaffirmed the full commitment of all partners to deliver Olympic and Paralympic Games fit for a post-corona world next year. Speaking afterwards, Chair Coates said: “This is a very positive sign that we’ve been able to return to Japan at this point in preparations. Discussions over the last three days have reinforced our joint determination to hold safe and successful Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Close collaboration and regular communications with our friends in Japan, partners across the world and the entire Olympic Movement have once again shown we are stronger together.”
He continued: “This solidarity and unity will help us deliver Games fit for a post-corona world, providing a light at the end of the dark tunnel following this incredibly difficult period for humanity. While the next few months will be crucial, remarkable progress has already been made and, with positive momentum, we will continue to support Tokyo 2020 throughout the upcoming challenges as we prepare to hold an unforgettable Games in 2021.”
The President of the IPC, Andrew Parsons, who joined remotely, added: “Never before in history has such a level of planning and preparation gone into the organisation of a major sport event. No stone is being left unturned as all partners work together to ensure safe, secure and successful Olympic and Paralympic Games next summer in Tokyo.
“This level of work and commitment by all Games delivery partners will not be in vain. After a terrible 2020, we are determined that 2021 will bring new hope. The Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 will be a celebration of human diversity and ability, a global showcase of resilience, and the starting point for a better, more inclusive post-corona world.”
Strong cooperation through regular forums such as the “Here We Go” and “All-Partner” task forces remains the driving factor behind Tokyo 2020’s progress. This has been evident in regular joint communications with stakeholders such as the recent Chef de Mission Webinars, IF Seminar, Virtual World Broadcasters Briefing and a Press Operations Update.
All parties agreed on the importance of clear and timely communications over the coming months, with a project to develop a series of playbooks outlined during meetings. Created by the IOC, IPC and Tokyo 2020, these will be designed as guidelines for each stakeholder group and will include important information about the measures that will be in place and what it will mean for their Games experience.
A key element within these playbooks will be details of COVID-19 countermeasures. This topic was covered in great detail during the Project Review as work continues to identify optimal solutions to host the Games next year in a safe and secure environment, to protect both the local Japanese population and all visitors, including athletes, officials and spectators.
Discussions on this subject focused on creating a toolbox of measures ready to implement depending on the situation next July. Updates were provided on the development of vaccines, testing and infection control, and also covered stakeholder journeys to Japan, during the Games and departure.
A key part of this process has been learning from the resumption of top tier sport across the world, with findings regularly shared amongst delivery partners. It was noted that sport’s return has also contributed to increasing confidence amongst stakeholders, particularly in Japan where, for example, professional football and baseball events have been welcoming thousands of spectators in recent weeks.
This positive momentum was further illustrated earlier this month as the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), in partnership with the Japan Gymnastics Association, successfully delivered the “Friendship and Solidarity Competition”. This event welcomed athletes from four countries and over 2,000 spectators to the event held in Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Stadium, the venue for the handball, badminton and wheelchair rugby competitions during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
While continuing on the topic of health and safety, updates on heat countermeasures were provided following a number of tests in recent months. In addition, all parties reiterated their determination to explore further opportunities for optimisations and simplifications following the recent announcement of more than 50 measures that will deliver an estimated USD 280 million in cost savings from the operational budget.