IOC president says Olympics not to blame for COVID surge in Tokyo

Bach spoke with reporters two days after emerging from the 72-hour quarantine facing those arriving from abroad for the Games.

(ATR) As coronavirus numbers rise in Tokyo, IOC President Thomas Bach says the Olympics are not to blame.

Thomas Bach arrives in Tokyo on July 8. (IOC)
Thomas Bach arrives in Tokyo on July 8. (IOC)

The number of cases in Tokyo reported Wednesday was 1149, the first time since May that the daily rate exceeded 1,000 cases. Tokyo is under a fourth state of emergency to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“These figures are not rising because of the Olympic Games,” Bach declared in a briefing with news agencies.

“Once the Japanese people realize that we have done everything to minimize the risk as far as we could with advice of international experts, when the athletes finally compete, that this will be appreciated by the Japanese people,” Bach replied to a question from Around the Rings.

Bach spoke with reporters two days after emerging from the 72-hour quarantine facing those arriving from abroad for the Games. Opening ceremony is set for July 23, postponed from last July as a response to the pandemic.

In the briefing, Bach admitted that the unprecedented Games postponement has presented challenges to the IOC.

“In these 15 months we have had doubts every day. We could not know fully what this would mean. It is way more complex than we thought it would be,” said the IOC President.

Among those complications has been a ban on all spectators. Foreigners were told months ago not to come and this month the decision was made to block Japanese from attending, too.

“We can have safe Games. Without spectators is the price to pay,” Bach said.

The IOC president revealed that the absence of spectators won’t mean silent venues.

“We are taking many innovative efforts to create an atmosphere for athletes,” he says. That includes what he calls an “immersive sound system” in the venues. He says audio of audiences from similar events in past Olympic Games will be piped into the sound systems to help with the atmospherics. He also said fans around the world will be able to contribute their applause to the Games in real time through digital technology.

Bach also detailed changes to the medal ceremony to accommodate coronavirus countermeasures. No longer will an IOC member drape the medal over the neck of the athlete. He says the medals will be presented on a tray for the athlete to remove. Gloved hands will handle the medals beforehand to prevent any spread of the virus.

IOC members will still be a part of the ceremony, just without contact. Bach says of the 102 current IOC members, only four have sent apologies that they will not be in Tokyo.

Bach says he is not troubled by the decisions of some top athletes not to come to Tokyo. Roger Federer pulled out on Tuesday due to injury, joining fellow tennis stars Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams on the sidelines. Bach said such decisions are normal at every Olympics, noting that the each Olympics gives new competitors the chance to emerge.

The IOC president defended plans to travel Friday to Hiroshima. He says he wants to visit the monument to the victims of the atomic bomb that destroyed the city in 1945. He’s facing criticism from Japan for making the 800 km trip in the midst of the state of emergency.

“This visit to Hiroshima is about marking the first day of the Olympic Truce resolution,” Bach said referring to the document adopted by the United Nations ahead of each Olympics.

“This will have nothing to do with politics,” Bach said.

IOC vice president John Coates, chair of the IOC Coordination Commission for Tokyo will make a separate trip to the museum in Nagasaki commemorating the second nuclear bomb used days after the Hiroshima attack.

Written and reported by Ed Hula