TOKYO, Japan (AP):
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice president in charge of the postponed Tokyo Olympics said yesterday that the games would open in just over two months, even if the city and other parts of Japan were under a state of emergency because of rising COVID-19 cases.
John Coates, speaking from Australia in a virtual news conference with Tokyo organisers at the end of three days of meetings, said this would be the case even if local medical experts advised against holding the Olympics.
“The advice we have from the WHO (World Health Organization) and all other scientific and medical advice that we have is that — all the measures we have outlined, all of those measures that we are undertaking are satisfactory and will ensure a safe and secure games in terms of health,” Coates said. “And that’s the case whether there is a state of emergency or not.”
Public opinion is Japan has been running at 60-80 per cent against opening the Olympics on July 23, depending on how the question is phrased. Coates suggested public opinion might improve as more Japanese get fully vaccinated. That figure is now about two per cent.
“If it doesn’t, then our position is that we have to make sure that we get on with our job,” Coates said. “And our job is to ensure these games are safe for all the participants and all the people of Japan.”
IOC officials say they expect more than 80 per cent of the residents of the Olympic Village, located on Tokyo Bay, to be vaccinated and be largely cut off from contact with the public. About 11,000 Olympic and 4,400 Paralympic athletes are expected to attend.
Coates said about 80 per cent of spots in the Olympics would be awarded from qualifying events, with 20 per cent coming from rankings.
Coates left no doubt that the Switzerland-based IOC believes the Tokyo Games will happen. The IOC gets almost 75 per cent of its income from selling broadcast rights, a key driver in pushing on. And Tokyo has officially spent US$15.4 billion (around J$2.3 trillion) to organise the Olympics, though a government audit suggests the real number is much higher.
Tokyo, Osaka and several other prefectures are now under a state of emergency and healthcare systems are being stretched. Emergency measures are scheduled to end on May 31, but they are likely to be extended.
“If the current situation continues, I hope the government will have the wisdom not to end the emergency at the end of May,” Haruo Ozaki, head of the Tokyo Medical Association, told the weekly magazine Aera.
Ozaki has consistently said government measures to control the spread of COVID-19 have been insufficient. About 12,000 deaths in Japan have been attributed to the virus, and the situation is exacerbated since so few in Japan have been fully vaccinated.