THE BIG PICTURE: Bach optimistic about the Tokyo Games and Japanese reception as 0.1% of athletes and officials test positive so far

IOC President Thomas Bach at Saturday's news conference in Tokyo (Photo: Screenshot of IOC video)

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“We are very much aware of the skepticism, obviously, a number of people have here in Japan … and therefore my appeal to the Japanese people to welcome these athletes here for their competition of their life and to acknowledge that there it is not for any prize that these athletes are coming here.

“They have like the same interest as the Japanese people that these Games are safe and secure and for this, they accept and even welcome measures, restrictive measures, which make these Olympic Games the most restricted sports event – not only in Japan, as you know – but in the entire world.”

That was International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) during an in-person news conference at the Main Press Center of the Tokyo Games, asked about his message to the Japanese people as the Games get ready to start. Pressed further, Bach explained:

“You will always have different opinions. That such a discussion is becoming more heated and more emotional in the situation of a pandemic is something we have to understand. Many people feel under stress, they have to face uncertainty and that there, you react with some skepticism, that you react with some strong arguments, I think this is human life.

“Therefore, what we can do, only, is to try to get the attention of these people and to try to enter into a dialogue with these people, to get not only to get the emotions across, but to try also to gain the confidence – their confidence – in these strict Covid measures. And they can also see, the Japanese people, that even in this time, you are organize sport events and safe sport events, if you look at the many sports events which are underway now in Japan and in Tokyo at this very moment.”

Bach noted that as of Friday (16th), some 15,000 athletes and officials have arrived, with 15 positive tests upon arrival, or 0.1%. The Tokyo 2020 organizers, to their credit, are posting daily Covid-19 positives statistics, with 44 from 1 July through the 17th:

● 28 contractors
● 10 “Games-concerned personnel”
● 3 media
● 2 Tokyo 2020 staff
● 1 athlete

IOC Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi (SUI) further explained that while the Olympic Village was built to house 17,000, it will actually house not more than about 9,000 at any one time during the Games due to new rules on entry and exit and other measures.

Bach was also asked about New Zealand transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, and noted:

“The rules for the qualification have been established by the International Weightlifting Federation before the qualification started and these rules apply. You cannot change rules during an ongoing competition.

“At the same time, the IOC is in an inquiry phase with all the different stakeholders – the medical experts, the social experts, human rights experts– and, of course, international federations, to review this rule and then finally to come up with some guidelines, which cannot be rules because this is a question which [has] no one-size-fits-all solution. This is a question which differs from sport to sport.”

A banner flown outside the Korean team’s tower in the Olympic Village was removed at the IOC’s request; Bach stated that under the new Rule 50 guidelines, the Village is a protected area from “any kind of divisive messages.

Asked about his outlook for the Tokyo Games, Bach remained steadfastly optimistic:

“I would like once more, to ask and to invite, the Japanese people, humbly, to welcome and support the athletes from around the world. … Like the Japanese people, they have overcome so many obstacles to be here, finally. So the Japanese people can feel with them, and the athletes can feel with the Japanese people.

“And I’m actually very confident that the Japanese people will, once the Games are starting – at least, I hope, maybe before – not only welcome them and support them because this is what the Japanese people have demonstrated since the brilliant Olympic Games of Tokyo 1964.”

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