It was obvious that something was up, as Wednesday’s news conference with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) was much more crowded than previous editions at the new IOC headquarters building in Lausanne, Switzerland.
And after the fifth straight question concerning the spreading coronavirus and July’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Bach smiled slightly and asked the assembled media:
“Do you have an agreement among yourselves that you try to get me into speculation there, finally?
“I can assure you I will not get tired, and to repeat the statement I made: the IOC is fully committed and we are not participating in any kind of speculation.”
No agreement was necessary and the questions continued, with Bach remaining resolute and focused, but he did add some worthwhile details:
● “I can tell you that today, in the meeting of the Executive Board, neither the word ‘cancellation’ not the word ‘postponement’ was even mentioned. And of course, we are a responsible organization; this is why we have this joint task force, which is having regular meetings, and there we are addressing there any issues which may arise. But we are not speculating on any kind of future developments.”
The joint task force includes the IOC, the Tokyo 2020 organizers, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the government of Japan and the World Health Organization.
● Two of the last three questions were essentially the same, asking how Bach could be so confident that the Games will go on as scheduled:
“Because we are in contact with all of these leading experts. The World Health Organization is a member of the joint task force. We have our own task force within the IOC with experts; the organizing committee has a task force and then we are getting together in the joint task force. And based on this information, on this consultation, we are fully committed to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.”
“I had a conversation with the Director General of the World Health Organization and the leading people in the organization last Friday, and when we say we are fully committed to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, we took this conversation into consideration as, as well as the contribution and advice the World Health Organization is giving on a regular basis to the joint task force.”
● Bach also quoted some figures from the Tokyo 2020 organizers from their report which underlines the importance of maintaining a positive outlook for the Games, especially within Japan itself:
“4.5 million Olympic tickets have been sold domestically in Japan, and to give you an indication of the enthusiasm of the Japanese people around these Olympic Games, one figure is maybe interesting for these 4.5 million tickets, there were over 80 – eight, zero – million requests since the start of the sale of tickets in Japan.”
Bach also spoke about a series of other initiatives that the IOC is undertaking, but that drew little interest from the media assembly.
One of them will show up at this summer’s Games in Tokyo: a change in the IOC’s Opening Ceremony protocol to allow National Olympic Committees to have two flagbearers – one male and one female – to jointly carry the flag into the stadium. (How two people are going to carry one flag is yet to be figured out; it would have been better to allow each NOC to have two flagbearers: one with the national flag and one with the flag of the NOC itself.)
Another is a new IOC program to create an “Olympic Forest” and a promise that future Games will be “carbon-positive”:
“We will have in Tokyo about 2.9 million tons of emissions related to the Games, which will be fully compensated. ‘Fully’ means not only be related to the activities of the OCOG, but the Olympic Games as such. And Paris is aiming for a reduction of these carbon emissions to 1.5 million [tons] already.
“And for the hosts of 2030 on, the IOC will make this commitment to be climate positive obligatory in the Host City Contract. This is a commitment with regard to the organization of the Olympic Games, but there is a second commitment, with regard to the IOC as an organization.
“Now, the IOC as an organization is carbon-neutral, already since 2017, but here again we wanted to lead by example and we do not want only to tell the organizers of the Olympic Games ‘you have to be climate positive,’ the IOC itself must lead by example and wants to become climate-positive as soon as possible, and that means way before 2030. So as a part of these efforts, to become climate-positive as soon as possible, the IOC will start planting an Olympic Forest, starting in 2021. And this will help the IOC to become climate-positive , and with this Olympic forest, we will contribute to the project, which is backed by the United Nations Environmental Program – by UNEP – and is initiated by the African Union with a number of African states and some other international organizations and is planned for the Sahel region of Africa.” (The Sahel is the region just below the Sahara Desert, running the width of the continent, including parts of 14 countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.)
Bach did comment on China, where the coronavirus has had the most impact, commending the Beijing 2022 winter organizers, who did appear in Lausanne to report on their progress:
“Despite these challenges, the organizing committee could present their report, which shows – with impressive numbers – how successful they are in their engagement program. So they’re well on target to make 300 million Chinese people familiar with winter sports. They have, already now, just a couple of months after the start of the program, 670,000 applications for just 39,000 volunteer positions , and the application phase is still going on until next year. So we can expect some more record numbers , and also the marketing program is extremely well on the way: there are already 10 marketing partners.
“They had to cancel in China [a] FIS World Cup, but on the other hand, we were informed about various successful China national winter games, which were held at the new Olympic venues.”
There was one question that wasn’t aimed in part at Tokyo 2020 and the virus issue, asked about the status of the suspended International Boxing Association (AIBA) and the agreement to hold the Paris 2024 surfing competition in Tahiti.
On AIBA, Bach put down the hammer.
“We also had a very short report of the monitoring group of AIBA, which is – as you know – separate from the organizing group for the competition. And there, you would not get me to say that I am optimistic, and this is not because the report was so short. So we will have to see how this will go on. We keep monitoring this, but I cannot say more at this moment in time.”
The federation was to hold a special congress to elect new officers and pass reform legislation this month in Budapest (HUN), but this has been postponed – due to the coronavirus – until 20 June. But Bach’s comment is not good news.
Bach added that the IOC agreed to the Paris 2024 request for Tahiti after considering the environmental impact, but most especially because of the “athlete’s experience: we are told that the surfing athletes are really eager to have this competition in Tahiti because of the conditions there, the waves.”
Always the politician, Bach smiled at the end of 30-plus minutes of questions and closed with a off-the-cuff laugh line: “Thank you for your great interest in gender and climate and have a nice evening.” He was hardly tired.