LANE ONE: Bach heading to Tokyo next week; “very confident” on 2021; athletes OK with no podium protests?

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at Wednesday's news conference (Photo: IOC video screenshot)

“Given the toolbox we are putting together and given the latest and very recent developments with regard to rapid testing and vaccination, we are very confident that we can offer a safe environment for all the athletes from all the National Olympic Committees and from the IOC Refugee Olympic Team” at the Games of the XXXII Olympiad next year in Tokyo, Japan.

That was the theme of International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach (GER) in a 57-minute news conference on Wednesday concerning the IOC Executive Board meeting held earlier in the day.

Bach announced that a small IOC delegation will visit Tokyo next week to see first-hand the progress of the organizing effort, but the Athlete’s Village, the Olympic Stadium and the plans concerning the control of the coronavirus. He was decidedly optimistic:

“The significance is high at this moment, not only with regard to Covid countermeasures, but for the overall organization of the Games, which of course, the countermeasures are key. So the message, you know, I want to deliver in Tokyo in Japan, to the Japanese people is that we are fully committed to the safe organization of the Games. This is the principle we have applied and this is the principle to which we remain committed: these Games will happen in a safe environment.”

“And for this we are undertaking all the efforts, and these, we hope, will help to change some people’s minds, exactly in the way that the gymnast described it, that we are discussing how we will manage this safe environment and there is a huge, huge toolbox already underway.

“I can’t and will not go into the details, because we would then still sit here in an hour, but this is starting from the travel restriction, with immigration, to quarantine, to tracing, to rapid testing, to vaccination, to social distancing … you name it. And this will reassure, will give confidence there to the participants but also to our gracious Japanese hosts that these Games will offer a safe environment for everybody, and also for the hosts.”

“Tokyo and Japan has demonstrated that you can organize there, international events, even under the restrictions in place now, and even under the conditions in place now. In nine months from now, I think we can now be sure – given the latest developments with regard to vaccination and rapid testing – we will even have more and better tools in the toolbox than the [Federation International de Gymnastique] and the organizing committee had now [for the trial meet successfully held last Sunday.]”

Bach was also optimistic about not only holding the Games in Tokyo next year, but with spectators as well:

“We are very confident there about having the Olympic Games next year, starting on 23 of July. I’m sorry that I will not be able to give you the exact number of spectators, but having seen now the different tests in Japan, I think we can become more and more confident that we will have a reasonable number of spectators then also in the Olympic venues. How many and under which conditions again depends very much on the future developments and the experience, you know, we are all making with the organization of big sports events at this moment in time.

“But there, Japan has set some very good examples; we have the baseball events [with spectators] in Yokohama and others in the last weeks, and we had this wonderful FIG gymnastics event, and there is more to come, then, at the beginning of next year. So we are taking this step by step, again, always first priority to ensure the safe environment for everybody.”

Bach also announced a 16% increase – to $590 million from 2021-24 – of the Olympic Solidarity program, which funds athlete scholarships, supports competition travel and the National Olympic Committees. In specific, the amounts earmarked for direct athlete support is being increased by 25% from the 2017-20 budget, as is the amount for the NOCs.

The IOC’s Olympic Solidarity chief James Macleod (GBR) noted that from 2017-20, the IOC “supported over 25,000 athletes through Olympic Solidarity programs, whether that’s at the youth level, continental/regional level or indeed at an elite level, for athletes training and preparing for the Olympic Games and Winter Games or the Youth Olympic Games. That includes 3,000 individual Olympic Scholarships for athletes in winter and summer sports and those are for athletes preparing for the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games, the Tokyo Olympic Games and the Beijing Games.”

From 2021-24, the IOC plans to pay at least $103 million in support payments directly to the NOCs. This will not satisfy the IOC’s critics, but more money for athletes is always welcome.

Bach was also asked about the continuing discussions about Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which bans protests at the Games:

“We received a short update by the Athletes Commission today. They informed us that they had already a number of qualitative assessments and consultations by some national organizations and athlete’s commissions, and with such athlete’s commissions where there so far these qualitative assessments have been made in this number of countries where they said that there is a majority of athletes of the opinion that the field of play and the ceremonies should be protected, while at the same time they are looking for new and creative ways how they can express their support for the Olympic values. …

“[Q]uantitative research will start shortly and that then after the conclusion of this quantitative research then they will come back to the IOC Executive Board with their proposals, reflecting all these consultations they will have had by then. And, you know, this is the procedure the IOC Executive Board supported from the very beginning, and we will not interfere into these consultations and are waiting for the hopefully creative and innovative proposals coming the athletes.”

But the outcome looks to be clear already. The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee is expected to make the recommendations from its Athlete Advisory Council public in the coming days.

Bach was also asked about the standing of the International Weightlifting Federation, which has been in turmoil since a January document from Germany’s ARD network alleged doping cover-ups and financial mismanagement within the federation. Bach was not happy:

“We see on the one hand progress with regard to anti-doping because the cooperation with ITA has been extended, which was very much important to ensure there the integrity of the qualification system which will resume in the IWF most likely in February next year. So there on the actual side with regard to anti-doping, there is some progress.

“On the other side, also with regard to anti-doping, there are still many, many questions open. You know about the inquiries going on by WADA, in different directions, and with regard to different countries and with regard to the role of IWF itself. There, we have to wait for the results of these inquiries of WADA, and then to see whether these can or must have consequences for the future.

“With regard to the governance reforms, there again, it’s pretty ambiguous . We have, for instance, not seen any progress with regard to having the athletes on the Executive Committee of IWF, we have seen plans and projects, but we don’t have seen any kind of implementation. Nothing has been put into action, and the same applies then to the composition of the Board; there, we have seen no changes: it’s still the old Board, with the exception of former President [Tamas] Ajan. We need to have further information on how the governance reforms and by whom they will finally be passed and be implemented. This is why the Executive Board reaffirmed its position that after Tokyo, we will have to review the position of weightlifting for the program for Paris, taking into consideration the governance reforms, taking into consideration also the results of the Tokyo competition, whether there finally a clean competitions in weightlifting and thirdly also, taking into consideration the results of the inquiry which on the way by WADA.”

Bach did get an inquiry from the Jiji Press in Japan about next week’s meetings in Tokyo that provoked a smirk:

“The answer to your question whether cancellation will be discussed, the answer is ‘no.’”

Rich Perelman

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