“All the options are on the table,” Bach said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
After weeks of insisting the Tokyo Games would begin as scheduled July 24, the IOC and Japanese Olympic officials announced Tuesday that because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the quadrennial event would be postponed until some time next year, which means organizers had to start scrambling on what promises to be a massive — and costly — undertaking.
Bach and others have made clear that it will take time for Olympic officials and the Tokyo 2020 committee to sort through the details and come up with a revised plan for staging the enormous event. They will need to consider scheduling, equipment availability, accommodations, venues and workforce — both paid employees and volunteers — among other things.
“Trying to figure out the best way to go is going to be very difficult,” said Anita DeFrantz, one of 15 members of the IOC executive committee. “It’s going to be a whole lot of work. It’s going to take more than a month or two to figure this out.”
Bach said the IOC already has formed a task force to tackle the myriad challenges. The group calls itself “Here We Go,” a nod to the obstacles that lie ahead. It will hold a teleconference with the 33 international sports federations Thursday to begin studying calendars and logistics.
“This is like a huge jigsaw puzzle putting together, every piece has to fit,” Bach said. “If you take out one piece, the whole puzzle is destroyed. Therefore, everything has to come together and everything is important. This is why I really do not envy the members of this task force in their work.”
Bach spoke to reporters for the first time since Olympic officials sharply reversed course Tuesday and delayed the Games, a decree that came less than two days after Bach penned a letter to athletes and said a decision on postponement would be premature. Bach explained that there were a lot of developments that transpired in that short window, which prompted the IOC and Japanese Olympic officials to act.
He said hours after the IOC’s executive board met Sunday “new alarming information was coming in. We saw more and more travel restrictions. … We also heard the virus start to spread on a number of islands in Oceania. The next morning, Monday morning, we received a declaration from the World Health Organization, which was pretty alarming, where the director general said the spreading is accelerating.”
He said a surge in cases across Africa particularly concerned Olympic organizers.
“From the very beginning, this was a big worry for me personally … that if the virus would outbreak there in Africa on this huge continent with the challenges many countries in Africa have to face already, that this would be a very dramatic development which would not only affect Africa but, again, affect the entire world. This is why this was such a crucial moment.”
Bach did not say that he or the executive committee was particularly swayed by the growing chorus of athletes voicing their concerns or the group of nations which started calling for a postponement, even publicly announcing they would not send their athletes to compete in Tokyo this summer.
Bach said he had no regrets about the IOC’s handling of the situation or his hard-line stance throughout the crisis that these Olympics would take place as scheduled. He had been criticized by some athletes for encouraging them to continue their Olympic preparations, even as many governments were enforcing new restrictions and public health officials were issuing warnings as the virus continued to spread.
“What we expressed was the confidence in our Japanese partners and friends to organize there in July in safe conditions an Olympic Games,” Bach said. “ … What then made the change was the dynamic changes in the worldwide health situation.”
Bach was asked what the IOC might do if the pandemic is not contained one year from now and whether a cancellation or further postponement could be possible. He said: “We have established this principle … that we want and we will organize a Games only in a safe environment for all the participants.”
Asked a similar question this week, IOC member Dick Pound told The Washington Post: “Well, we had a prime minister many years ago who used to say, ‘We’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it.’ What you hope is, in 16 months the containment strategies will have become effective. You’ll be that much closer to a vaccine. Maybe it’ll be not normal-normal, but it’ll be sufficiently normal to go ahead. If those circumstances change, that’s the next elephant in the room. We would again rely on the World Health Organization and the other public health authorities to give their advice or rulings.”
For now, the focus will be on rescheduling the Tokyo Games. Officials can’t simply slide the Olympics back 365 days. Among the challenges: Competition venues are leased specifically for 2020; much of the equipment — tents, generators, trailers, barricades — is rented and not owned; hotel rooms need to be reserved; workers and volunteers might not be available a year down the road; the Olympic Village is due to be converted into condominiums, and many have already been sold; and the Olympics media operation was to be headquartered at the Tokyo Big Sight, which serves as the city’s major convention space, an important Tokyo facility that typically hosts 300 exhibitions every year.
“The organizing committee is going, ‘Where do I begin?’” said Michael Payne, a former IOC marketing head who remains a prominent figure around the Games. “The financial considerations are not nearly as dramatic as some people are reporting. You’ve just got the mother of all operational headaches to work through.”
One longtime sports executive, who has helped stage multiple Olympics, said in a recent interview that Tokyo could be better poised than many other cities to navigate these unique challenges.
“You have to look at this all in light of the country,” said the executive, who still does work in the vast Olympic world and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s very different doing this in Japan vs. the United States and certainly different than a place like China. A place like Japan — because the Japanese people, they’re very conscious of national pride, of not being embarrassed and therefore would tend to be much more cooperative on the some of the issues.”
The head of Japan’s largest business lobby said he accepts there was no option but to postpone the Games, public broadcaster NHK reported Wednesday, but that his group will do all it can to support the rescheduled event.
“We have many issues to resolve. For example, an additional sponsorship burden,” Japan Business Federation Chairman Hiroaki Nakanishi said. “But we will give our best efforts for the Games."
There will be contracts that need to be worked out and lawyers involved. Many Olympic partnership agreements — and also those between athletes and sponsors, as well as broadcasters and advertisers — were set to expire at the conclusion of the Games or the end of 2020. Bach said he was hopeful the different parties would “keep their rights even if these Games are organized in ’21.”
“The Games have never been postponed before,” Bach said. “We have no blueprint. But we are nevertheless confident that we can put a beautiful jigsaw puzzle together and in the end will have a wonderful Olympic Games.”
Simon Denyer in Tokyo and Adam Kilgore in Washington contributed to this report.