International Olympic Committee

IOC president Thomas Bach looks to Tokyo Olympics, tasks they entail

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IOC President Thomas Bach said the Tokyo Olympics will be optimized and simplified in 2021, but the athlete experience will not be compromised.

“We will make sure the athletes will have this stage to shine, to which they are used in the Olympic Games, which they would have enjoyed from now on, from today on in Tokyo 2020,” Bach told NBC Olympics primetime host Mike Tirico on Thursday, one year out from the Opening Ceremony.

Bach was asked about several key topics pertaining to the first postponed Olympics in modern history.

Could the Olympics be held without fans?

“This is clearly what we do not want,” he said. “It’s too early to speculate, but, again, the Olympic spirit would be at its best with full stadia.”

Where do you stand on the topic of perhaps needing a significant medical advancement or vaccine to hold the Olympics?

“We remain committed to this one overarching principle we have established already before the postponement — this means to organize the Olympic Games only by safeguarding the safety and the health of all people involved in the Olympic Games,” Bach said, noting close cooperation with experts, including the World Health Organization. “We will address the circumstances as they may arise.”

If the Olympics can’t be held in 2021, will they be postponed, or will they be canceled?

“This is speculation right now,” Bach said. “We are well-advised, and I would also like to ask the public, a little bit, not to speculate too much with the ifs and whens and how, because in many countries in the world, you do not know under which circumstances you can leave your house tomorrow or whether you can leave it at all.

“It’s really too much expected from us and the organizing committee to know today all the details of the biggest and most complex event in the world.”

Where do we stand on discussions regarding athlete demonstrations at the Olympics?

“It is important to emphasize that the athletes have manyfold opportunities to express themselves — in press conferences, in interviews, in social media, in team meetings, in conversations with their fellow athletes in the Olympic Village and so on,” Bach said. “Rule 50 [of the Olympic Charter, prohibiting “protests and demonstrations”] relates only to the field of play and the ceremonies.

“We want to see how, in a dignified and non-divisive ways, maybe new formats can be found for the athletes to show their support for one of the key messages of the Olympic Games, which is non-discrimination. The Olympic Games themselves are maybe one of the most powerful demonstrations of non-discrimination. … Everybody is being equal. Everybody is equally treated, respecting the same rules. I think this is really a powerful symbol of non-discrimination.”

Lastly, Bach looked ahead to the Opening Ceremony in exactly one year.

“This Opening Ceremony will first of all send the message which Olympic Games are always sending: this is the unity of humanity in all our diversity,” he said, sitting in front of an Olympic Flag and the torch Muhammad Ali used to light the 1996 Olympic cauldron. “But in Tokyo, it will be more. It will be a message of solidarity and a message of hope.”

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IOC Athletes’ Commission to draft proposal on athlete protests at Olympics

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IOC President Thomas Bach, when asked about athletes potentially protesting at the Tokyo Olympics, said the IOC Athletes’ Commission will talk with athletes around the world to explore how Olympians can express themselves at the Games while keeping the Olympic Charter in mind.

“The framework has been set, and now let the Athletes’ Commission and let the athletes discuss among themselves and then come up with the relevant proposals,” Bach said Wednesday. “We also agree at the same time with the Athletes’ Commission that we must always respect the Olympic spirit, and this means that we must make a difference between such support for the principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter and, potentially, divisive demonstrations.”

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter states, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

In January, the IOC Athletes’ Commission published guidelines pertaining to Rule 50. It stated that “protests and demonstrations” are not permitted at Olympic venues, during medal ceremonies, at Opening and Closing Ceremonies and at the Athletes’ Village. “Protests” included “gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling.”

The guidelines further stated:

“It is important, on both a personal and a global level, that we keep the venues, the Olympic Village and the podium neutral and free from any form of political, religious or ethnic demonstrations. If we do not, the life’s work of the athletes around us could be tarnished, and the world would quickly no longer be able to look at us competing and living respectfully together, as conflicts drive a wedge between individuals, groups and nations. That is not to say that you should be silent about the issues you care deeply about, and below you will find a list of places where you can express your views at the Olympic Games. …

The focus at the Olympic Games must remain on athletes’ performances, sport and the international unity and harmony that the Olympic Movement seeks to advance. Athletes at the Olympic Games are part of a global community with many different views, lifestyles and values. The mission of the Olympic Games to bring the entire world together can facilitate the understanding of different views, but this can be accomplished only if everybody respects this diversity. It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference. Specifically, the focus for the field of play and related ceremonies must be on celebrating athletes’ performance, and showcasing sport and its values.”

On Monday, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland announced she was creating an athlete-led group to “challenge the rules and systems in our own organization that create barriers to progress, including your right to protest. We will also advocate for change globally.”

Last August, U.S. Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry and fencer Race Imboden raised a fist and kneeled, respectively, on podiums at the Pan American Games in Peru. At the time, the USOPC put them on 12-month probation. Hirshland apologized to Berry last week “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” Berry said.

In 1968, U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were sent home from the Mexico City Games after raising their gloved fists during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In 2019, Smith and Carlos were inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

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IOC preps for different scenarios for Tokyo Olympics in 2021

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IOC President Thomas Bach said there is no blueprint to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the first one-year postponement in Olympic history. Nevertheless, Bach said Wednesday that “good progress” is being made to hold the Games in summer 2021.

“At the same time, because of this uncertainty, we have to think different scenarios,” Bach told Mike Tirico on NBCSN’s Lunch Talk Live. “We don’t know how the world will look like by then. We have to consider already now whether there will be measures necessary for access to Japan, for instance. Do we maybe need quarantine for athletes from different countries or for all the athletes from all the countries? How can this be managed? Do we need special measures for access to the venues? How many people can access the venues? This is part of this mammoth task.”

Bach said keys in the beginning of the 2021 process included securing the Olympic village and venues.

The IOC is following advice from the World Health Organization when it comes to the coronavirus and public safety. Bach was asked by Tirico whether a coronavirus vaccine was necessary for the Olympics to happen.

“We have established one principle at the very beginning of all this discussion, way before the postponement [was announced], and this is that the Games must be organized offering a safe environment for all the participants,” Bach said. “At this moment, nobody can give you a reliable answer to the question of how the world will look like in in one year and two months from now. What we can say is we are committed, and we stick to this principle — safe Games for everybody.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said before the postponement was announced March 24 that the Games cannot be postponed beyond summer 2021, Bach reiterated to the BBC on Wednesday.

“He made it very clear from the beginning that summer 2021 is the last option,” said Bach, who made similar comments to German media in mid-April. “Quite frankly, I have some understanding for this because you cannot forever employ 3,000 or 5,000 people in an organizing committee. You cannot every year change the entire sports schedule worldwide of all the major federations. You cannot have the athletes being in uncertainty. You cannot have so much overlapping for the future Olympic Games.”

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