International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates was adamant yesterday that nothing could stop the Tokyo Olympics from going ahead, despite ongoing risks from Covid-19.
Asked by AFP if there was any scenario in which the Games, which are due to start on July 23, could be cancelled or postponed again at this late stage, he replied: “No, there’s not.
“The prime minister of Japan said that to the president of the United States two or three weeks ago. He continues to say that to the IOC.
“We’re working with him (Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga) on all of the safety measures. It’s going ahead.”
Suga held talks with US President Joe Biden in April and stressed the Asian nation was doing everything possible to contain Covid-19 infections and hold a “safe and secure” Olympics.
But questions continue to be raised about the viability of the Games, given the ongoing pandemic and a virus state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of Japan being extended on Friday.
While Japan’s Covid-19 outbreak remains much smaller than in many countries, with just over 10,500 deaths, its vaccine rollout is moving slowly and polls show most Japanese people support cancellation or another delay.
Coates, the point man for the Games as head of the IOC’s co-ordination commission, said a huge amount of work had been done to ensure the safety of athletes and the Japanese public.
“We spent the first half of last year identifying all the worst-case scenarios,” he told reporters in Sydney on the sidelines of the Australian Olympic Committee’s annual general meeting.
“We spent the next six months looking at the countermeasures that are necessary.
“We’re implementing those countermeasures, predicated on there being no vaccine, so that situation has improved. The Games will go ahead.”
US drugs giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on Thursday announced a deal with the IOC to provide vaccines to competitors and staff at the Games.
In a statement, the firms said they would coordinate with national sporting bodies to make sure that coronavirus vaccines are available to anyone who needs one before travelling to Japan.
Coates said it was a big step forward.
“All of the precautions that we have been taking are aimed at the health of the athletes and the health of the people of Japan,” he said, denying the IOC was putting sport and financial considerations before health.
“We’ve put an amazing amount of work into the procedures that ensure the safety of the athletes through testing... boosted now by all athletes around the world now having access to the vaccine.”
But he also admitted that not having the Japanese public fully on board was a concern.
“I think there’s a correlation between the numbers who are concerned about their safety with the numbers who have been vaccinated in Japan,” he said.
“And the numbers (vaccinated) are very small, particularly among the elderly. So as the vaccine is rolled out in Japan, I think that will improve.
“The other message we have to get across to them, and are getting across to them, is that these measures we’ve been taking and trialling at test events are working,” he added.
Coates revealed a Tunisian official at a recent rowing event in Tokyo tested positive for coronavirus, but said that only proved the tough measures were working.
“He tested okay before he left Tunisia, tested okay on arrival then three days later tested positive,” he said.
“But the system worked and he was taken out of his team, the competition, and no one else tested positive. Sorry for him, but that was a very good experience (for organisers).”
Australia’s Coates defends AOC record
Sydney: The president of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) yesterday conceded a more diverse group of athletes should have been used in an advertisement for a local underwear brand after harsh criticism from two-time Olympian Liz Cambage.
However, President John Coates defended the body’s broader record on race representation, as the AOC announced it had amended its constitution to ensure a permanent Indigenous representative on the body’s Athletes’ Commission.
An image from a promotional photoshoot with team sponsor Jockey released this week showed Australian Olympic and Paralympic athletes in sponsored outfits, but did not feature any athletes of colour.
Basketball player Cambage, a bronze medal winner at the 2012 Games in London who plays in the WNBA for the Las Vegas Aces, launched a scathing attack on social media. Cambage suggested she would boycott the Games if the situation did not change.
“If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a mn times. HOW AM I MEANT TO REPRESENT A COUNTRY THAT DOESNT EVEN REPRESENT ME #whitewashedaustralia,” the 29-year-old, who has a Nigerian father, posted on Instagram.
Coates said Cambage’s comment “was to do with Jockey, we should have had more diversification in that advertisement.”
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