Thomas Bach comes to Tokyo as cheerleader for next year’s Olympics

IOC president Thomas Bach will be visiting Tokyo for the first time since the Olympics were postponed.

IOC president Thomas Bach. - AP

The IOC and Tokyo Olympic organisers have been shouting the message for months now, that despite the continuing pandemic, the Games will open on July 23, 2021.

The volume will be turned up louder on Monday and Tuesday. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach will be in Tokyo making the rounds, shaking hands and posing for photos in his first visit since the Olympics were postponed 7 1/2 months ago.

Bach will make his point to supportive politicians, and to a skeptical public distracted by the pandemic and ambivalent about the Games. And worried about jobs and the economy.

Unlike to give new details

He is unlikely to give many new details in public, but he has said repeatedly that the IOC is planning “many scenarios” to get 11,000 athletes into Tokyo, and some fans, too. The Paralympics will draw 4,350 more athletes.

Bach has spoken with increasing confidence that a vaccine will be available, and also rapid testing. He’s said both would make the Olympics easier to deliver, as well as holding stalled qualifying events.

ALSO READ | Bach: Olympic Games cannot be 'marketplace of demonstrations'

“I think we can become more and more confident that we will have a reasonable amount of spectators,” Bach said last week at the IOC’s headquarters in Switzerland. Fans from abroad are also possible, though numbers and protocols are unclear.

Bach was also asked last week whether he was going to Tokyo to talk about contingencies for canceling the Olympics.

“No,” he replied.

Bach is travelling on a private charter and will meet new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday morning. A few hours later he will give former prime minister Shinzo Abe an Olympic award.

An hour later he’s with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, and then holds a media conference with Tokyo organising committee president Yoshiro Mori, another former prime minister. Several of the events will be online, but others are open to media attending in person.

Surge in cases

Japan has reported just under 1,900 deaths attributed to COVID-19. It has controlled the virus better than most places, but has recorded a record number of cases over the last several days as the virus surges around the globe.

Bach has no public appearances on Tuesday until mid-afternoon. It could be time to see a sponsor, or a moment slotted for interviews with Japanese newspapers and television.

Thomas Bach shakes hands with Shinzo Abe while Yoshiro Mori looks on during the 'One Year to Go' ceremony at the Tokyo International Forum in Tokyo, on July 24, 2019. - REUTERS

 

Prodded by the giant Japanese advertising agency Dentsu Inc., domestic sponsors have contributed a record USD 3.3 billion to local organisers, more than twice as much as any previous Olympics.

Bach’s two big photo opportunities are Tuesday afternoon at the Athletes’ Village — a complex alongside Tokyo Bay — followed by a stop at the new USD 1.4 billion National Stadium.

The IOC president has called Tokyo the best prepared Olympics in history, a point he’s likely to repeat.

ALSO READ | Olympic leaders raise hopes for safe Tokyo Games with fans

He’s unlikely to dwell on the costs, most of which fall on Japan. A University of Oxford study says these are the most expensive Summer Olympics on record.

A government audit last year said Olympic costs could reach the USD 25 billion range. All but USD 5.6 billion is public money.

That was before another USD 2 billion to USD 3 billion may be added on by the delay. The IOC has said it would chip in about USD 650 to Japan for the postponement, but has given no few public details.

Tokyo said the Olympics would cost USD 7.3 billion in 2013 when it was awarded the Games.