LANE ONE: IOC chief Bach: “We are not speculating on whether the Games are taking place, we are working on how the Games will take place”

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach of Germany (Photo: Screenshot of IOC video news conference)

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“Our task is to organize Olympic Games, not to cancel Olympic Games. And our task is to make [sure] the Olympic dreams of the athletes are coming true.”

That’s where International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) placed the focus following a meeting of the IOC Executive Board by videoconference on Wednesday. He reiterated in response to a question:

“[W]hat we are saying is we have to concentrate on the essentials. And the essentials are the field of play and a fair and safe competition. Everything else has to have second priority, but we want not to destroy any Olympic dream of any athlete.”

Bach detailed the current status of the Tokyo situation, starting with “we are fully concentrated on, and committed to, the successful and safe delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.” And he addressed the chatter over cancellation directly in some lengthy, but very well-prepared opening remarks:

“The organization of Olympic and Paralympic Games, as such, is already an extremely complex challenge. But this complexity is multiplied when it comes to organize postponed Olympic Games for the first time ever, and this under the conditions of pandemic.

“So, there is no blueprint for this, and we are learning every day. This fight against the virus – as you all know from your personal circumstances – this fight against the virus is a tough one. But we are fighting this fight for, and like, Olympic athletes. This means, with full determination, with a will to win, with hard work every day and with all the physical and mental strength we can have.

“There, if we have to address the different issues, nobody – nobody – at this moment can predict the health situation in 206 National Olympic Committees for the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games from late July to September this year. Not even the most prominent scientists in this area.

“This leads, you may say naturally, but it leads you can also say, unfortunately, you could say of course, this leads to many speculations. But all these speculations are hurting the athletes in their preparations who have already to overcome the challenges in their daily training and competition with all the restrictions they are facing, either in their country or when it comes to traveling.

“So there is speculation about cancellation, about a ‘Plan B,’ about everything. Some even make the proposal to postpone the Olympic Games in Tokyo to the year 2032. I want to say, ‘good luck,’ if you would have to discuss this with an athlete who is preparing for the Olympic Games 2021.

“There are some proposals to move it to another city, which everybody who knows about the complexity of Olympic Games, is not possible, in such a short period of time. So, for all these reasons, we are not losing our time and energy on speculation, but we are fully concentrated on the Opening Ceremony on the 23rd of July this year, so we are not speculating on whether the Games are taking place, we are working on how the Games will take place.

“That means, we have to put Covid countermeasures together for every possible scenario. And in this, we are relying on the advice of all the different authorities there: the Japanese government, the health authorities, the World Health Organization , we are talking with the manufacturers of vaccines, with all the experts. And also from these consultations, we can conclude it is too early to tell which of the many Covid countermeasures will finally be the appropriate one when it comes to the time of the Games.

“We just have to ask for patience, and understanding, and we are asking for this patience, you know, from the athletes, from the National Olympic Committees, the IFs, the Japanese people, the organizing committee; everybody. We have to be patient and diligent in the same way.

“So, soon we will be able now to release the first version of the so-called ‘playbooks’ for the Games, which will explain the measures for the different stakeholder groups to protect themselves and to protect others. These playbooks will be first, in the first version, will be presented to the National Olympic Committees and to the chef de missions in the beginning of February. There, they all – the NOCs, the athletes, everybody – can trust that we are providing the facts and our planned countermeasures as the situation develops and according to the situation, what is needed.

“The priority is always the same: safe and secure Games, by everybody. And in this we are gaining even more confidence from the effectiveness of the countermeasures which are being applied right now in sports events across the world. We have seen this during the winter season: more than 7,000 events have been organized by the International Federations, with 175,000 Covid tests, and only 0.18 [percent] were positive. The competitions could be run, could be organized and none of the competitions developed into hotspots or anything like this.”

Asked if holding the Games is actually irresponsible, Bach emphasized the facts on the ground today:

“It is clearly not irresponsible. We are able and in a position to offer the relevant countermeasures and this already starts with the figures you were giving, you are speaking about 10,500 athletes, we took already the measure that these 10,500 athletes will not be there in the Olympic Village at the same time by reducing the staying of the athletes to five days in principle and having a kind of a ‘wave’ system. The same will, of course, apply to their coaches and officials and others, so this is one of the measures we have been undertaking.

“Take Handball now [the IHF men’s World Championship is ongoing]. In Egypt, a country which is considered to be a high-risk country, and you have 3,000 people in a bubble and this being organized in a couple of weeks only, or a couple of months. While we have much better conditions, we could prepare much longer, and we have much better conditions because again the Olympic Village, because we have with the National Olympic Committees partners who can take care of their teams from now on already, and they do with many of the athletes and many other issues more. So if we think it would be irresponsible and if we would think the Games could not be safe, we would not go for it.”

Bach could not state when a decision might be made about spectators at the Games, and asked for patience. There were also some other issues of importance, especially as he noted “We had also to address the very sad stories with regard to two international federations again.”

“This concerns [the international boxing federation] AIBA; there, we are still very much – very much – concerned about the lack of progress in AIBA with regard to the requested reforms of management, of governance, and also of refereeing and other issues and we will inform AIBA about these concerns immediately.”

“With regard to the International Weightlifting Federation, there, our – again – great concerns are about the apparent weakening of their anti-doping rules and about also other governance issues. But concentrating on the anti-doping rules, we had to note that obviously, IWF wants to change the anti-doping rules which were the basis for the approval of the IOC for their qualification system [for Tokyo]. This is really something upsetting, and even more so that all this happened without any consultation with the IOC.

“There, we will request a clear explanation and have already put this topic on the agenda of the next Executive Board meeting, which will take place in February.”

Bach expressed satisfaction with the decree of the Italian government on assuring the autonomy of the Italian National Olympic Committee on the management of its own finances. Asked if the IOC was “really ready to suspend the Italian Olympic Committee in case of non-compliance of the Italian government?” Bach answered back:

“The answer … is yes. We were ready. There is no doubt. We have there to apply the same rules, and have to treat everybody in the Olympic Movement and all the NOCs equally.”

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and the forthcoming Commission on the State of the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics should take note of that answer.

Rich Perelman

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