Haruyuki Takahashi, a member of the Tokyo 2020 executive board, told the Wall Street Journal if Biden “makes a positive statement about the Olympics going ahead, we’d gain strong momentum.”
“It’s up to the U.S.,” he said. “I hate to say it, but Thomas Bach and the IOC are not the ones who are able to make the decision about the Games. They don’t have that level of leadership.”
Bach, the IOC president, declined to comment on Takahashi’s comments Wednesday, instead referring to an IOC statement that read: “It is regrettable that Mr. Takahashi does not know the facts. First: It is USOPC that decides about the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic team. Second: USOPC has never left a doubt about their participation. Therefore, his comments are obsolete.”
Regardless, the conjecture and finger-pointing come just as the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee have been batting back rumors of cancellation or postponement, saying they’re close to sharing with stakeholders their detailed plans for staging the massive sporting spectacle this summer.
“There is speculation about cancellation, about Plan B, about everything,” Bach said. “Some even make the proposal to postpone the Olympic Games in Tokyo to the year 2032. I want to say, ‘Good luck if you would have to discuss this with an athlete who is preparing for the Olympic Games 2021.’
“There are some proposals to move it to another city, which everybody who knows about the complexity of the Olympic Games is not possible in such a short period of time,” he continued. “For all these reasons, we are not losing our time and energy on speculation. But we are fully concentrating on the opening ceremony of the 23rd of July this year.”
Bach spoke last week with all 206 national Olympic committees, reassuring them that plans for this summer remain on schedule, and officials with Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese government similarly have sought to bolster public confidence in recent days.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked during a news briefing Wednesday whether Biden believes the Games can be staged safely. She said she was not certain of the president’s views on the Tokyo Olympics, noting that Biden spoke by telephone earlier in the day with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. There was no mention of the Olympics included in a readout of the call released by the White House.
Sarah Hirshland, the USOPC’s chief executive, wrote a letter to Team USA athletes Wednesday night, assuring them that “our expectation today is that the Games will go forward.”
“We’ll learn more in the coming weeks, and the USOPC and the [national governing bodies] will continue working extraordinarily hard to mitigate against the unexpected, and to give every Team USA athlete the best opportunity to achieve their sporting dream — with as little distraction as possible,” she wrote.
Craig Spence, chief brand and communications officer for the International Paralympic Committee, told The Washington Post that Olympic and Paralympic organizers need to do a better job explaining to the public why they’re so confident they can pull off such a complex undertaking amid a pandemic.
“The fruit of our labor people will start to see very soon,” he said. “The planning phasing is pretty much coming to an end now, and the implementation is coming. In the coming weeks, we’ll start announcing why we’re optimistic that we can get the Games on. All the things that we’ve been planning and looking into will start to be published, and we’ll start explaining, ‘This is how this will work; this is how that will work.’ Once these measures have been announced, I think that will start to reassure people, ‘Hey, these guys have pretty much thought of everything.’ ”
As early as next week, Olympic officials plan to release a “playbook” for stakeholders, including athletes, officials and media members, which will lay out protocols, expectations and responsibilities. They anticipate updating this document at least two more times before July as information surrounding the virus changes.
The IOC will not require those attending the Olympics to receive a vaccination before traveling to Tokyo, though it reiterated its hope this week that everyone will consider taking the shot, if available. Bach again said Wednesday that he’s not in favor of athletes “jumping the queue.”
“The first in line must be the high-risk group, the health-care workers and the people who keep our society alive,” he said. “That is the first priority.”
With the number of covid-19 cases in Japan rising, public opinion has soured on hosting an Olympics, with polls suggesting 80 percent of the people there now prefer to cancel or postpone the Summer Games.
“From a human point of view, I can understand everybody who has concerns about Olympic Games,” Bach said, “when he or she is living in a lockdown, does not know whether you can go to a restaurant, to see your friends or family. In this circumstance, it’s extremely difficult to imagine an Olympic Games. So personally, I have all the understanding. But the responsibility of the government and of the IOC is to look beyond this situation. We have many good reasons to say it’s not about whether the Games are taking place; it’s about the how.”