Bach expresses confidence in Tokyo Games even as virus cases surge

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, says he is confident that spectators will be able to attend the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Thomas Bach

Thomas Bach's visit to Japan comes a week after Tokyo successfully hosted a one-off international gymnastics meet at which organisers tested a range of COVID-19 countermeasures.   -  Reuters/File Image

International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach expressed confidence on Monday that the Tokyo Games will be held successfully next year, even allowing spectators, despite a sharp rise in coronavirus infections worldwide.

Bach's two-day visit to Tokyo is likely to boost Japan's efforts to stage the Olympics, despite a public worried about the spread of the virus.

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His key topics of discussion with organisers include whether to allow spectators and ensuring safe accommodation for more than 11,000 athletes arriving from across the world.

The visit is his first to the Japanese capital since Bach and former prime minister Shinzo Abe decided in March to postpone the Games to 2021 because of virus risks.

On Monday, Bach fist-bumped with Japan's new premier, Yoshihide Suga, and told Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike they could be confident a vaccine would be available by next summer.

The IOC will arrange to ensure vaccination of both participants and visitors before they arrive in Japan, he added.

“In order to protect the Japanese people, and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that ... the Olympic participants and visitors will arrive here vaccinated if, by then, a vaccine is available,” he said.

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The IOC was now “very confident” that spectators would be able to attend the Games, he added.

News of a potentially successful vaccine from Pfizer Inc has boosted hopes for next year's staging of the Games, but Japanese public opinion remains mixed.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents told a July poll by broadcaster NHK that the Games should be further postponed or cancelled.

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In contrast, most Japanese firms want the Games to go ahead next summer, even though they admit their contribution to the economy would be limited.

Japan reported record new daily virus cases last week, though it has not suffered the high deaths seen elsewhere.

Bach called next year's games a “light at the end of the tunnel” after the world's pandemic battle, and pointed to recent sporting competitions in Japan as proof that events could already take place safely.

This month, Tokyo successfully hosted an international gymnastics meet at which organisers tested a range of COVID-19 countermeasures.

On his Tokyo visit, Bach also awarded Abe the Olympic Order in gold, the IOC's highest accolade.

When premier, Abe made himself all but synonymous with Tokyo 2020, even famously appearing as video game character Mario at the closing ceremony of the Rio Games in 2016.

Later on Monday, Bach will hold a news conference with the head of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, and on Tuesday he is due to visit the newly-built National Stadium.