With 59 days to go before the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the spreading Omicron mutation of the COVID-19 virus, postponement is not an option, says the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) commission watching over the event in February.
“The answer is no,” said Juan Antonio Samaranch to a question from Around the Rings during a virtual media briefing.
“We have learned from two years in a COVID world we have to be flexible be ready to adapt to fast changing conditions. We have that in Beijing,” said Samaranch, first vice president of the IOC. He spoke to reporters following the first of three days of virtual meetings of the 15-member IOC Executive Board.
“We have a very powerful team. We have done all the rehearsals of possible situations. They have prepared for any possible contingency.”
We are pretty confident in that respect. It’s not that we expect to have the coronavirus move forward or backward, are ready for any movement that takes place,” said Samaranch.
“The Games to be successful they have to be safe. They will be extremely safe. Above all, from a COVID perspective these Games will be extremely safe,” he says.
Samaranch says the closed loop environment planned for athletes, media and officials in Beijing will be a key. The protocols are similar to those followed in Tokyo earlier this year for the Summer Olympics, postponed for one year due to the pandemic.
But with foreign and domestic spectators largely barred from Tokyo events, Beijing organizers have yet to announce plans for domestic crowds.
Assessing the COVID situation is a big factor in making a decision about spectators said IOC Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi. He says organizers are planning for spectators and expects a positive announcement in the weeks ahead. While he acknowledges that it is getting late to launch a ticketing plan for the Games, Dubi says enthusiasm for the Winter Olympics is high.
“From the moment the on button will be turned, we will for sure get the sales up and running,” says Dubi.
Facing questions over the way the IOC has handled the case of tennis Olympian Peng Shuai, Samaranch defended the so-called “quiet diplomacy” the IOC is pursing with Peng.
A whirlwind of controversy and questions about her welfare and safety has swirled since an online posting appeared in China accusing a former top government leader of sexual assault. The post by Peng was removed minutes later, but not before her words spread globally.
Now incommunicado to the media, IOC President Thomas Bach has been in touch via video conference two times now with Peng. Samaranch says the IOC is in touch with Chinese officials across all aspects of the questions hanging over the three-time Olympian.
“Our idea is to concentrate on the well-being of the athlete. And we are doing that wholeheartedly,” said the IOC member from Spain.
On the matter of the diplomatic boycott against the Beijing Olympics ordered Monday by U.S. President Joseph Biden, Samaranch said the IOC understands the how political decisions must be made.
“We always ask for as much respect from the political world and the least possible interference in our world of Olympic sport and ideals. So we have to be reciprocal on that. We understand, we have to accept the political decisions taken by political bodies all around the world,” says Samaranch.
The order by Biden will prevent U.S. government officials from attending the Beijing Olympics. It does not bar athletes. Some U.S. allies may also take a similar position, Canada and Australia are likely prospects. The boycott is aimed at protesting China human rights policies.
The IOC executive meeting runs until Thursday. The session on Wednesday will include a press conference with the IOC president.