TOKYO (AP) — The IOC vice president in charge of the postponed Tokyo Olympics
said Friday that the games would begin in just over two months, despite the fact that the city and other parts of Japan
were declared in an emergency due to rising COVID-19
At the end of three days of meetings, John Coates, speaking from Australia
in a virtual news
conference with Tokyo organizers, said this would be the case even if local medical experts advised against holding the Olympics.
“The advice we have from the WHO (World Health Organization
) and all other scientific and medical advice that we have is that — all of the measures we have outlined, all of the measures that we are undertaking are satisfactory and will ensure a safe and secure games in terms of health,” Coates said, adding, “And that is the case whether there is a state of emergency or not.”
Depending on how the question is phrased, public opinion in Japan has ranged from 60-80% in favor of holding the Olympics on July 23. Coates suggested that public opinion may improve as more Japanese get fully vaccinated, which is currently at about 2%.
“If it doesn’t, our position is that we have to make sure that we get on with our job,” Coates said, “and our job is to ensure that these games are safe for all of the participants and all of the people
According to IOC officials, more than 80% of the residents of the Olympic Village, which is located on Tokyo Bay, will be vaccinated and will be largely cut off from public contact. Approximately 11,000 Olympic and 4,400 Paralympic athletes are expected to participate.
According to Coates, qualifying events would account for roughly 80% of Olympic spots, with rankings accounting for 20%.
Coates left no doubt that the International Olympic Committee
(IOC), based in Switzerland, believes the Tokyo Games will take place. The IOC earns nearly 75% of its revenue from selling broadcast rights, which is a key motivator in pushing forward. Tokyo has officially spent $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics, though a government audit suggests the true figure is much higher.
Tokyo, Osaka, and several other prefectures are currently in a state of emergency, and health-care systems are overburdened; emergency measures are set to expire on May 31, but they will almost certainly be extended.
“If the current situation persists, I hope the government will have the foresight not to call an end to the emergency at the end of May,” Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, told the weekly magazine Aera.
Ozaki has consistently stated that government measures to control the spread of COVID-19 have been insufficient, despite the fact that the virus has been blamed for approximately 12,000 deaths in Japan, a situation exacerbated by the fact that so few Japanese people have been fully vaccinated.
Ozaki warned that if the state of emergency is not extended, the virus and its contagious variants will spread rapidly.
“If that happens, there will be a major outbreak, and holding the games may become hopeless,” he added.
This warning is not unique to Ozaki.
In a letter sent last week to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Tokyo Governor
Yuriko Koike, Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa, and the head of the organizing committee, Seiko Hashimoto, the 6,000-member Tokyo Medical Practitioners’ Association called for the Olympics to be canceled.
“We believe that canceling an event that has the potential to increase the number of infected people and deaths is the correct choice,” the letter stated.
Hashimoto addressed common Japanese concerns.
“At the moment, there are not a few people who are concerned about the fact that the games will be held in a place where a large number of people will be coming from abroad,” she said, adding that “other people are concerned about the potential burden on Japan’s medical system.”
She said the number of “stakeholders” coming to Japan from other countries had been reduced from 180,000 to around 80,000, and that Olympic “stakeholders” would number 59,000, of which 23,000 would be Olympic family and international federations, and an additional 17,000 would be television
rights holders, with 6,000 more media
She also stated that 230 physicians and 310 nurses would be required on a daily basis, and that approximately 30 hospitals in Tokyo and elsewhere had been contacted about caring for Olympic patients. Organizers previously stated that 10,000 medical workers would be required for the Olympics.
Separately, the IOC has stated that an unspecified number of medical personnel from unnamed national Olympic committees will be made available.
Foreign fans were banned months ago, and Hashimoto stated that the number of spectators — if any — at venues would “depend on the spread of the infection.” She promised a decision on venue capacity next month.
Kaori Yamaguchi, a bronze medalist in judo at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee, hinted this week in an interview with the Kyodo news agency that organizers were cornered and that she was skeptical of the event going ahead.
“We’re approaching the point where we can’t even cancel,” she explained.
In an interview with Japan's JiJi Press, the IOC's most senior member, Richard Pound, said that the final deadline to cancel the Olympics was still a month away.
“You really need to know, yes or no, before the end of June,” Pound said, according to JiJi.
Pound reiterated, as did the IOC, that if the games cannot be held now, they will be canceled, not postponed.
IOC President Thomas Bach will now arrive in Tokyo on July 12, having been forced to cancel a trip to Japan earlier this month due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
This report was contributed to by Kantaro Komiya.
More AP Olympic coverage can be found at https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games