By Euan Cunningham
A press conference held by the International Olympic Committee with the intention of sending out a message of solidarity over the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games ended abruptly when a protestor interrupted proceedings.
The Tokyo games, delayed from last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, are now less than 80 days away, and "moving fully ahead" despite ongoing challenges, the IOC said on Wednesday.
A virtual conference in which IOC spokesperson Mark Adams was answering questions, rather than the organisation's president Thomas Bach, had largely touched on what effect the recent extension of a Covid-based lockdown in Tokyo would have on the games, as well as on public opinion in Japan, with polls remaining stubbornly in favour of a cancellation or postponement.
Adams, linking through to the last question, from what he believed to be a Yahoo news journalist, was instead confronted by a banner across the screen displaying strong anti-Olympic sentiments, and a protestor saying: "No Olympics anywhere, no Olympics anywhere, f*** the Olympics, we don’t want the Olympics anywhere. No Olympics in LA [Los Angeles], no Olympics in Tokyo.”
It has been reported that NOlympics Los Angeles, which is opposed to the staging of the games in the US city in 2028, was responsible for the stunt, and the movement has indicated this was the case.
The press conference, which followed an IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne, focused on the continued unpopularity of the Tokyo Olympics among the Japanese public, with the latest poll showing that, amid continuing concerns over the Covid situation, 60 per cent want the games to be cancelled.
A petition calling for the games to be called off has gathered over 300,000 signatures since it was launched last week.
Adams said: “We do take note of public polling, but I’m very confident that when the Japanese people see how they can be the proud owners of this event, we’ll see public opinion switch to hugely in favour of the games.
“We understand the problems Japan is having at the moment will influence public opinion, but opinion and polling does change rapidly… which is what we think will happen here.
“We’re fully concentrated on delivering the games, and are now moving fully ahead… This will be an event that really brings the world together.”
He added: “There has been a small extension of the emergency period [by the Japanese government], but we continue to plan for a full Olympics… that’s the way it has to be and the only way it can be for us.”
"We noted and fully understand the decision to extend the state of emergency. We are in solidarity with the Japanese people.”
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for 23 July to 8 August, and the IOC claimed on Wednesday that four test events conducted in the city in recent weeks, in diving, volleyball, marathon and athletics, had been a success.
Responding to questions on the ramifications of the extension of the state of emergency, Adams said: "The test events we recently held should give people in Japan confidence that games can be held in a very safe way… There’s been a lot of speculation recently, but we’re now in the implementation phase of the games and are moving full steam ahead.”
He confirmed that the IOC did have insurance policies in place for the Olympics, but that the details would remain private.
Toshiro Muto, chief executive of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, reportedly said that cancelling the games was “never raised” as an option at this week's meeting.
After some athletes including tennis stars Naomi Osaka and Rafael Nadal expressed doubt about their own participation at the Olympics, Adams said: "Of course there is caution from some athletes, but we know the huge majority are looking forward to coming, and think they can be safe here.
“We’re working flat out to get as many athletes as possible vaccinated, and estimate that the large majority of those staying in the Olympic Village during the games will have been vaccinated.”
The IOC spokesperson said that a planned visit to Tokyo by Bach before the games would be something “we hope we can discuss [again] in the future, once the state of emergency has lifted".
The IOC president had been due to attend a torch relay in the city of Hiroshima on 17 May, and meet with Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga, but the trip was cancelled as the state of emergency was extended.