“In my opinion now, it’s more a question of how than if,” Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, told a news conference ahead of a key meeting of the organizers of the Games.
The Games were postponed last year because of the pandemic, and opinion polls show a majority of Japanese people say they should not go ahead in the summer.
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, stressed the importance of making sure the Games were safe for the people of Japan and especially the population of Tokyo, and said the IOC wanted to contribute by making sure as many participants as possible are vaccinated before arriving in the country.
“I can inform you that a considerable number of National Olympic Committees have already secured these pre-Tokyo vaccinations,” he said, adding that athletes would only be inoculated after people deemed at high risk had been protected from the virus, and in line with national regulations.
Yohan Blake, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 4x100 relay for Jamaica, said this week he would rather miss the Tokyo Games than be vaccinated against the coronavirus, and Bach has repeatedly said that a vaccine won’t be mandatory. But he is trying to put as much moral pressure as he can on athletes, coaches and officials.
“This is also an important message for Japan and for you, that the Olympic participants, with these efforts to get vaccinated, do also want to show their solidarity with the Japanese people and with the entire Olympic community,” Bach said.
While athletes can largely be confined in training camps and the Olympic Village, the prospect of a horde of foreign spectators wandering around Tokyo has scared many people. It was hardly a surprise Wednesday when the Mainichi newspaper reported that the Japanese government has “begun preparations” to host the Games without overseas spectators.
Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, said a final decision on overseas spectators would be made by the end of March, but she hoped to be able to make an announcement by the time the torch relay starts March 25. She dropped a strong hint, however, that banning overseas spectators was the only way to ensure a “safe and secure Games” and calm concerns among the general public.
“Anxiety still remains amongst the voices of the citizens,” she said. “And as long as there is anxiety, we need to make efforts so that the principle of ‘safe and secure’ is maintained.
“When we think of the current situation, whether it is Japan or overseas, we are in a very difficult situation. That is a fact. And under such circumstances, in the end, what type of decision should be made?” she added. “How can ‘safe and secure’ be maintained? Under the current situation, if the situation is tough and it would make consumers concerned, then that is a situation that we need to avoid from happening.”
Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa also hinted at the government’s position, speaking about “heightened interest” among the Japanese public about virus variants and the need to reassure people that the Games would be safe.
“We need to build an environment where people can rest assured to welcome the Games,” she said.
Bach said the IOC was standing by the side of the Japanese organizers.
Hashimoto said a decision on limits for domestic spectators would be made by the end of April, in accordance with expert advice and government guidelines on spectators. Japan has allowed limited numbers of spectators to attend sporting events through the pandemic, albeit with bans on cheering, shouting, singing and drinking alcohol.
The IOC issued its first “Playbook” for the Tokyo Games last month, indicating that participants will be tested before departure and on arrival, and be expected to avoid social interaction when possible and steer clear of public transport. Spectators will be allowed to clap but asked not to cheer or shout to avoid spreading virus particles.
Japan’s government had initially hoped to have vaccinated most of the population by the time the Games begin July 23, but that schedule has slipped badly this year. The government now hopes to secure enough vaccines for 36 million older people and 5 million health workers by the end of June, but vaccinations for the general public are not expected to begin before July at the earliest.
A survey conducted last month by Kekst CNC showed 56 percent of Japanese people did not want the Games to proceed, while just 16 percent supported them happening in the summer, while a poll by the Yomiuri newspaper showed similar results.