IOC president: Tokyo organizers inspired confidence, but global spread forced hand

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International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Tuesday and Wednesday that the changing situation of the international coronavirus outbreak forced the IOC to postpone the 2020 Olympics despite his confidence that Tokyo organizers could put on the Olympics safely.

“We see the beginning of an outbreak in Africa, which is very dangerous,” Bach told NBC’s Mike Tirico on Tuesday. “We see an outbreak on some of the islands in Oceania. We see rapidly growing figures in South America, and we’ve heard the World Health Organization speaking about an acceleration of the virus. This was very alarming news on Sunday and Monday, and we also saw more travel restrictions all across the globe.”

READ: Tokyo Olympics postponed until 2021

News of the virus’ spread on Sunday prompted Bach to call an emergency meeting of the IOC executive board. At that point, Bach said, the question of holding the Games was no longer centered on Japan.

“The focus shifted very much,” Bach said. “At the beginning the question was, ‘Can our Japanese partners and friends offer safe conditions for safe Games for the athletes and everybody involved?’ There we saw good progress with the numbers in Japan. We saw measures being taken which made us confident that indeed Japan, in four and a half months, could offer safe Games.

“Then we had this wave of the spreading of the virus all over the world, so now the question was a very different one: ‘Can Japan receive all these people together from all over the world? Can the athletes, can everybody travel safely? What are the restrictions in the different countries?’ When we saw this shift, we reacted quickly.”

Bach reiterated this shift in focus Wednesday in a teleconference with international journalists:

“We could see, on the one hand, the progress being made in Japan fighting the virus and the efficiency of the measures being taken. But we had to see, on the other side, the virus was spreading so rapidly that it became more and more a question of whether the world could travel to Japan and whether Japan could afford, in the spirit of containing the virus, to invite the world.”

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Even while the board was meeting on Sunday, new information came in about the virus spreading on islands in Oceania. The World Health Organization provided more alarming information on Monday.

“We were in line always with the advice of the World Health Organization,” Bach said Wednesday.

The IOC then accelerated a discussion of all of its options.

“Cancellation was discussed, like all of the options on the table, but it was clear cancellation should not be something the IOC would in any way favor because our mission is to organize Olympic Games and make the dreams of Olympic athletes come true,” Bach said Wednesday.

Bach struck an optimistic note in looking forward one year and noted that the Olympic flame will remain in Japan.

“We can really celebrate these Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020, together, and it will hopefully be a celebration of humanity after having overcome this unprecedented challenge of the coronavirus,” Bach told Tirico on Tuesday.

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