(ATR) Australian Olympic officials were forced to urgently reassure the country’s public – and those vying to be part of Australia’s largest contingent since the home Olympics in Sydney in 2000 – that Tokyo 2020 is on course to go ahead.
A massive media frenzy was sparked by a story published hours earlier in Britain’s The Times newspaper claiming this year’s Games were about to be aborted.
Australian Olympic Committee CEO Matt Carroll declared at a hastily convened media conference early Friday afternoon (Sydney time) to assure the country following the report the Japanese Government would abandon plans to stage the Games scheduled to start on July 23 and instead bid to be hosts in 2032 was "unfounded".
He said the report was a case of smoke without fire.
Ironically, the Australian state of Queensland is progressing with its plans to bid for the 2032 Games.
The difficult operational challenges of the upcoming Games, and athlete safety, is a timely topic in Australia this week. The first major sporting event involving overseas competitors, the Australian Tennis Open, is due to begin in early February but has been thrown into controversy with several players and support staff testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Melbourne and leading players complaining about the conditions during their 14-day quarantine.
Carroll admitted Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman was forced to write to all contending Olympic athletes to "ease their anxiety about what they’ve read in the media" and also contacted member sports "to ensure they also understand what are unfounded rumors."
Australian Olympic Committee chairman and IOC vice-president John Coates had received assurances hours earlier from the Japanese Organizing Committee chairman Yasuhiro Yamashita that planning for the Games was unaffected.
Tokyo 2020 organizers, in a statement concerning The Times report, said Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga "has expressed his determination to hold the Games".
The statement added "the government is leading a series of Coordination Meetings for COVID-19 Countermeasures and is implementing thorough infection countermeasures in order to be able to hold the Games.
"All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the IOC and the IPC are fully focused on hosting the Games this summer. We hope that daily life can return to normal as soon as possible, and we will continue to make every effort to prepare for a safe and secure Games."
At the news conference, Carroll gave an indication of the restrictions the Australian competitors will have to abide by at the Games to ensure they remain COVID-safe, saying they will be tested before departing Australia, upon arriving in Japan, will undergo 14 days quarantine and will not be allowed to enter the Olympic Village until five days before their competition.
"And they will leave within 48 hours within the completion of their competition," he added.
"The athletes will go from the Village to training venues, go to competition venues and come back to the Village.
"Games organizers, the International Olympic Committee, SOCOG, Tokyo Metropolitan and the Japanese Government are putting in place COVID countermeasures, testing regimes and guidelines on personal responsibilities; the same as things we do here in Australia.
"Overseas competitions and qualifications and international federations are working through qualification requirements and modifying them to ensure there is a level playing field in getting athletes to the Games.
"We are well into planning the assembly of the team here in Australia and some athletes will be coming into Tokyo from overseas. That planning will go to all the necessary measures to ensure the Australian athletes are COVID free and will arrive safely into the Village in Tokyo.
"Most importantly we will bring them home safely and manage all of that within whatever Government regulations here in Australia are in place at the time. This will be very much an athletes and competition focused Games.
"If any country can handle a logistical challenge, it is Japan. They’re very good at it," Carroll said.
Written and reported by Neil Cadigan
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