IOC chief Bach reflects on Tokyo Olympics a year later


International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach gives an interview in Lausanne, Switzerland on July 5, 2022. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) – International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said holding the Tokyo Games amid the coronavirus pandemic meant a generation of athletes experienced what could have been a once-in-a-lifetime chance to compete on the biggest stage in sport.

Speaking to Kyodo News a year after the close of the Olympics which were delayed by a year and largely held without spectators, Bach reflected on the unprecedented challenge of hosting games during a pandemic.

“There’s so much (emotion),” Bach said.

“The Organizing Committee and the IOC have together given the athletes of the world the opportunity to live their Olympic dreams, and we have managed not to lose an entire generation of athletes in 206 National Olympic Committees around the world.”

The IOC initially delayed the postponement of the games. But Canada pulled its athletes from the Olympics citing safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, while Australia, Brazil, Slovenia and Norway called for a one-year postponement.

Under additional pressure from athletes and other sporting bodies, particularly the United States Olympic Committee, Bach and then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to the postponement.

The Tokyo Olympics opened on July 23, 2021, instead of the original start date 364 days earlier.

Prior to the event, the significant levels of uncertainty required a great deal of soul-searching, Bach said.

“We woke up every morning, or we woke up during the night, practically every day with a new challenge. We had to reflect every day,” he said.

“Are we doing the right thing? Did we make the right decision? How to meet this new challenge? Can we do it? Or do we have to make drastic decisions? If we had spoken (publicly) about these things, the games would have collapsed.”

Bach said the most difficult moment was when the IOC had to ask the organizers to consider postponing the games because he feared his “Japanese friends” would feel insulted or misunderstand him for lack of confidence then. preparations were progressing well and the country said it had managed to keep COVID-19 under control.

He and Abe officially postponed the Olympics on March 24, 2020.

“And then we were on. We were on the exact same page,” Bach said.

The 68-year-old German denied ever discussing cancellation plans, although he admitted it was the easiest option for the IOC financially with the guaranteed money his insurance cover would have provided .

“We don’t work at the IOC because we want to destroy the athletes’ Olympic dreams. We want them to live their Olympic dreams,” he said.

Bach felt that he and Abe were able to build deep mutual trust through their discussions, and they were able to agree on “a gentleman’s deal with a virtual handshake” on a deal that had never had need to be concluded before in 124 years. the history of the Olympic Games.

Japan decided to host the Games despite strong public opposition, but Bach said it was a completely normal reaction to an abnormal situation.

“It’s absolutely normal. It wasn’t just the Japanese, there were a lot of people around the world (who felt that),” he said.

In the end, the organizers and Japan closed the doors to international spectators, including the families of the athletes.

Japanese fans have also been denied the chance to attend events in Tokyo amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, reversing an earlier decision to allow tens of thousands of local spectators. Some events outside the capital allowed a limited number of spectators.

A state of emergency already in effect in Tokyo continued throughout the more than two weeks of the games as the government tried to limit the number of infections.

Tokyo staged the most logistically intense Olympics to date by implementing a COVID-19 isolation bubble, and that in itself is among the games’ many legacies, Bach believes.

“First of all, these games will be in the history books, so you know it’s a legacy forever.”

“Secondly, you will have very concrete legacies. We have seen data that sports participation has increased, you have the sports facilities that are now becoming accessible to the population…and (the future Olympic hosts) Paris, Los Angeles and Brisbane are already benefiting from all the measures taken to simplify the games.”

Bach praised the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee, local government partners, volunteers and everyone involved for their combined efforts to deliver safe and secure games.

“When we did it, we did it together. That’s why these are historically unique Olympic Games. I think the Japanese people can be very, very proud of that,” he said.

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