LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Mar 10 – Newly re-elected International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach promised Wednesday to deliver a “safe, secure” Tokyo Olympics this year, saying that a decision on allowing foreign spectators would be taken “as early as possible”.
Bach said it was no longer a question of whether the Olympics, which were postponed last year as the coronavirus spread around the globe, would take place but in what conditions they will be held.
“Tokyo remains the best prepared Olympic city ever and at this moment, we have no reason to doubt that the opening ceremony will take place on July 23,” Bach said.
“The question is not whether, the question is how these Olympic Games will take place.
“The IOC is working at full speed together with our Japanese partners and friends to make the postponed Olympic Games a safe manifestation of peace, solidarity and resilience of humankind in overcoming the pandemic.”
Bach said his aim was to create “a safe, secure and fair environment for all the athletes”.
The local Japanese organisers are due to announce by the end of the month whether foreign spectators will be allowed to attend the Games, although it is widely reported that they will be barred due to Covid-19 concerns.
“We’re in permanent consultation with the Japanese government and organising committee,” Bach said.
“We have one agreement on one principle and that is to take a decision regarding foreign spectators as early as possible” in a bid to help manage ticketing, travel and to guarantee the “security and safety of everyone”.
Bach added that a decision on spectator capacity at the 34 Olympic venues, mostly in and around Tokyo but also elsewhere in Japan, would be taken as late as possible, up until just a month before the July 23-August 8 Games.
“We need to leave the door open in order to take into account all developments that take place, even in May or June,” he said.
– Overwhelming support –
Bach, 67, received unanimous backing in the election for IOC president in which he was the sole candidate, with 93 of the 94 valid votes from IOC members in favour of his re-election.
“This is more overwhelming given the reforms and difficult decisions we had to take,” said Bach, sending out a ‘virtual’ hug to his supporters.
“It’s touching me deeply and also makes me humble,” the German said, describing his first eight-year mandate as “not so easy”.
“Hopefully we’ll have us facing one less problem than we’ve had in the last eight. Who knows?!”
Bach is a popular, long-standing figure within the IOC. He was elected an IOC member at the age of 37 and went on to play a series of influential roles within the organisation before being initially elected its ninth president in September 2013.
Bach succeeded Belgian Jacques Rogge for his opening term. Under IOC rules introduced in 1999, Bach’s second term will last four years.
The Tokyo Olympics is the most pressing agenda item at the start of his new term, after an opening eight years that turned out to be unexpectedly eventful.
Under his reign as IOC chief, Bach has had to grapple with several political challenges, and has notably overseen the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the 2016 Rio Summer Games, both perceived as the most troublesome in recent years.
He has also been a key player in the ongoing Russian doping saga, although the IOC came in for criticism from some quarters for not issuing Moscow with a blanket ban over its state-sponsored doping system.
Bach also came under fire for reinstating the Russian National Olympic Committee after the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics despite failed drugs tests there.
He is credited, however, with having put in place the Olympic Agenda 2020, reforms aimed at cutting costs and streamlining bidding processes to better attract potential host cities.
It saw Paris granted the 2024 Olympics and Los Angeles the 2028 Games back in 2017, and the IOC last month accorded preferred candidate status to Brisbane for the 2032 Games.
But Bach could well have his biggest challenge ahead of him, in the form of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, with Beijing scheduled to host the 2022 Winter Olympics just six months after when the Tokyo Games are scheduled.