The postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics will go ahead next year, pandemic or not, IOC vice-president John Coates told the AFP on Monday.
In a phone interview, Coates said that the Tokyo Olympics would be the “Games that conquered Covid,” referring to the COVID-19 disease stemming from the novel coronavirus outbreak that has plagued the world over the last 6 months.
“The Games were going to be, their theme, the Reconstruction Games after the devastation of the tsunami,” he added, referring to a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan in 2011.
“Now very much these will be the Games that conquered Covid, the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Coates’ statement comes in spite of Japan’s borders being closed to most visitors, and without any caveats for a vaccine.
Earlier this year, about half of Japanese athletics federations said that they wanted a decision before the end of the year on whether to hold the Olympic Games next year or not. The Tokyo Organizing Committee, on the other hand, says that they would prefer to see a decision made in the spring of 2021.
Coates’ announcement comes as one of the key stakeholders, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, resigned from his post 2 weeks ago, citing a relapse of ulcerative colitis. He will remain in office until his Liberal Democratic Party chooses a replacement, which local pundits speculate could be later this month.
His favored replacement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, is expected to continue Abe’s path on pushing forward for a 2021 Games, however.
Preparations are Key
Coates pointed to Tokyo’s preparations as key for the ability to push forward in spite of complications presented by the delay
“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 re-negotiate for a year later.
“Sponsorships had to be extended a year, broadcast rights.”
The IOC has established a task force to review things like how athletes and officials would be able to enter the country amid border controls and whether the Games can be held with spectators. That group, which includes Japanese and IOC administrators, met for the first time last week.
“Their job now is to look at all the different counter-measures that will be required for the Games to take place,” said Coates.
“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.”
Coates is the head of the Australian Olympic Committee and was vice-president of the successful Sydney 2000 Olympic bid.
His native Australia has been among the most successful countries in limiting the spread of the virus, with just 26,322 cases leading to 762 deaths amid a population of 25 million. In spite of a surge in new cases in July and August, Australia has averaged fewer than 100 new cases per day over the last week.
Australia’s prime minister said on Sunday that he is expecting the country to receive its first batch of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on January 2021, with 3.8 million doses expected to be available early next year. AstaZeneca, in partnership with the University of Oxford, is working on one of the most promising late-stage vaccines globally.
The host country of Japan has seen just over 71,000 coronavirus cases leading to 1,357 deaths amid its population of 126 million, which likewise makes it one of the lowest infection rates per-capita in the world.
The global trend, which has never really receded since large outbreaks began in February, are generally stable over the last few weeks, with around 250,000 new daily cases around the world leading to about 5,500 daily deaths.
The interview with Coates led to a spike in stock price by Dentsu Group Inc., which is the marketing firm responsible for managing advertisements for what is expected to be the highest-grossing sponsorship package in Olympic history. Shares in the company rose 7.1% on the news.
The Tokyo Olympics are now scheduled to happen from July 23 to August 8, 2021.