Thomas Bach

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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As Olympic Flame arrives in Japan, IOC considers scenarios for Tokyo Games

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The Olympic Flame landed in Japan on Friday for a 121-day trek leading up to the July 24 Opening Ceremony.

“While we do not know how long the tunnel we are all in at this moment will be, we would like the Olympic Flame to be a light at the end of this tunnel,” IOC president Thomas Bach said.

Bach also repeated his stance that it would not be responsible to set a deadline on an Olympic decision because it would be based on speculation. The IOC has a task force, including the World Health Organization, which said it is too early to make a decision with four months to go

Bach said “of course, we are considering different scenarios” for the Olympics amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to The New York Times.

Bach was asked if the IOC had a group considering what an Olympics would look like if held later this year or in 2021 or 2022. He did not detail any possible scenarios but repeated that cancellation is not on the agenda, according to the report. And that the priority is protecting the health of everyone involved and supporting the containment of the virus.

At a Japanese air base Friday, three-time Olympic gold medalists Saori Yoshida (wrestling) and Tadahiro Nomura (judo) received the Flame at a lighting ceremony.

“For the first time in 56 years, the Olympic torch is heading to Tokyo and I hope that the Olympic torch will illuminate the path of hope for many people,” Tokyo 2020 organizing committee President Yoshiro Mori said at a scaled-down event, according to The Associated Press.

The flame was lit in the Ancient Olympic site of Olympia on March 12 and spent eight days in Greece.

The relay is scheduled to visit all 47 prefectures of Japan with emphasis on the area affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Around 98 percent of Japan’s population live within one hour by car or train of the route.

With the motto “Hope Lights Our Way,” it will visit the three prefectures most affected by the tsunami and earthquake (Fukushima (March 26-28), Iwate (June 17-19) and Miyagi (June 20-22)) for three days each.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Olympic Flame lit in Olympia, torch relay for Tokyo Games starts

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The Tokyo Olympic torch relay began in Olympia, Greece, on Thursday at the traditional Olympic Flame lighting ceremony, held with limited attendance due to coronavirus concerns.

“We are especially grateful that you made today’s ceremony possible, even under difficult circumstances,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a speech, thanking the Greek Olympic Committee president at the site of the Ancient Olympics. “This demonstrates once more our commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Nineteen weeks before the Opening Ceremony, we are strengthened in this commitment by the many authorities and sports organizations around the world who are taking so many significant measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.”

On Monday, it was announced that the lighting ceremony would be held without spectators and attended by a limited, 100 accredited guests from the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020.

The ceremony was capped by Greek Olympic shooting champion Anna Korakaki becoming the first woman to be the first torchbearer of an Olympic torch relay, which was first held for the 1936 Berlin Games.

Korakaki, a Rio gold medalist already qualified for the Tokyo Games, then passed the flame to Japan’s 2004 Olympic marathon champion Mizuki Noguchi.

The Olympic Flame will spend eight days in Greece before being flown to Japan for a 121-day trek through the country leading up to the July 24 Opening Ceremony cauldron lighting.

The Japanese part of the relay begins in the tsunami-affected prefecture of Fukushima, with the first torchbearers being members of the 2011 Women’s World Cup champion team.

“Given the unprecedent circumstances the world is facing, the health and safety of the thousands of torchbearers, spectators and staff will be the first priority along the route of the Olympic Torch Relay both in Greece and Japan,” the IOC said in a press release.

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