By Tariq Saleh
Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said today’s backing from the head of the World Health Organisation to stage the Tokyo 2020 games “speaks for itself” in terms of the safety measures put in place for the major event.
Despite rising coronavirus cases in Japan, the games, already delayed from last year and heavily disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, are set to officially begin with the opening ceremony on Friday.
Some competitions got underway today.
Preparations for the games have been complicated by the pandemic, with restrictions on the movements of athletes, team support staff, officials and media, and attendance by spectators at events having been ruled out after a fourth state of emergency was introduced in the Tokyo region.
Toshiro Muto, the head of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, had even conceded that a last-minute cancellation was a possibility.
However, the IOC has received a strong endorsement by the WHO, the highest health body in the world, to press ahead with the games in the Japanese capital.
Speaking to the IOC members at the organisation’s session in Tokyo today, WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Olympics should go ahead to show what can be achieved with the correct Covid-19 measures in place.
He said: "There's no zero risk in life; there is only more risk or less risk. The mark of success in the coming fortnight is not zero cases, and I know that some cases have already been detected.
"The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible, and onward transmission is interrupted. That is the mark of success for every country.
"The Olympics have the power to bring the world together, to inspire, to show what's possible. It is my sincere hope the Tokyo Games succeed."
Tedros’ speech to the IOC members came as officials announced another eight games-related coronavirus cases, taking the total to 79.
This was today followed by two more, with Chilean taekwondo athlete Fernanda Aguirre and Dutch skateboarder Candy Jacobs testing positive.
The games are set to take place despite considerable scepticism from the Japanese public, with a poll this week showing that 68 per cent of the population have doubts about the ability of the organisers to control infections, while 55 per cent are opposed to them taking place.
Despite the ongoing health crisis and public doubts, Bach said the WHO backing proves that the IOC has taken the correct decision to go ahead with the Tokyo Olympics.
The IOC president said in a press conference today: “The World Health Organisation is the highest authority on health questions and the pandemic and what their director general said today about the Olympic Games and the anti-Covid measures being applied there speaks for itself.
“For us, the director general of the WHO is the reference point as the international expert and the highest representative of the international organisation being responsible for the pandemic and for the anti-Covid measures. I have nothing to add to his words.”
Bach yesterday insisted that the cancellation of the Olympics was “never an option” as the IOC needed to fulfil its commitment to the athletes.
The games are scheduled to run to 8 August and will be followed by the similarly delayed Paralympics, from 24 August to 5 September.
Meanwhile, the IOC has said the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will need to have spectators for the games to be successful.
The event in the Chinese capital starts in less than 200 days but, like Tokyo 2020, faces the possibility of being staged without fans due to the ongoing threat posed by Covid-19.
Beijing 2022, scheduled for 4 to 20 February, is yet to launch its ticketing programme because of the pandemic and the prevailing uncertainty.
Millions of tickets has been sold domestically and internationally for Tokyo 2020, before the decision was taken to exclude spectators, with refunds forthcoming.
Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., who heads the IOC's coordination commission overseeing preparations for Beijing 2022, said on Wednesday: "We would like to have the international community there. We need very successful games next year in Beijing. We really need that success for the sake of everybody.
"We need and we want to have spectators. We want to have the opportunity for everybody to enjoy the hospitality.”