Japanese prime minister Suga welcomes IOC members to Tokyo

Thomas Bach admits there have been doubts along the journey to Tokyo 2020

Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga opened the 138th IOC Session in Tokyo vowing to “protect the health and security of the Japanese public” in his address to IOC members.

“At the same time for the athletes and stakeholders, we would like them to participate with the sense of safety and security,” Suga said, just three days before the Opening Ceremony and one day before the first competition events begin.

Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga addresses IOC Session (IOC/Greg Martin)
Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga addresses IOC Session (IOC/Greg Martin)

“I need your cooperation,” the Japanese prime minister requested, while commending the numerous parties who have contributed in making the postponed Olympic Games a reality.

“Vaccinations have started and after a long tunnel an exit is now in our sight, so in this context we are having our Games in Tokyo.

“In many venues there will be no spectators, but the significance will never be hampered or reduced.

“The world is faced with a great difficulty and now is the time that we have to unite and with the efforts and wisdom of mankind, we have to deliver the Games.”

Tokyo mayor Yuriko Koike, Japanese Olympic Committee president Yasuhiro Yamashita and Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto also welcomed the IOC guests to Japan in short speeches on day one of the two-day IOC Session at Tokyo’s Okura Hotel.

IOC president Thomas Bach provided a 28-minute report reflecting and calling for solidarity, while admitting doubt along the unprecedented journey to the Games.

“We could have drawn upon the insurance we had at the time and moved on to Paris 2024, but in fact, cancellation was never an option for us,” Bach said to his fellow IOC members. “The IOC never abandoned the athletes.

IOC President Thomas Bach addresses IOC Session in Tokyo. (IOC Greg Martin)
IOC President Thomas Bach addresses IOC Session in Tokyo. (IOC Greg Martin)

“Today, I can admit that we did not know how complex this would be – there was no blueprint, nobody had ever done this before.

“We could only take this situation because of the full mutual trust between our Japanese partners and us,” Bach said, noting the final decision to postpone and not cancel the Games, came during a 30-minute conversation that he had with former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Bach outlined three primary goals that were set, while expressing gratitude for the IOC’s partnership with Tokyo 2020 and the municipal and national governments.

“Organize postponed Olympic Games, support the Olympic community to overcome the crisis and emphasize the essential role of sport in society,” Bach said.

“We can only look ahead to the opening ceremony of this postponed Olympic Games because of this unified and powerful support – we did it together, we did it for the athletes.”

The IOC president admitted there have been underlying doubts along the way, but felt it was critical to keep these thoughts close to him and within the IOC.

“Imagine for a moment, what it would have meant if the leader of the Olympic Movement, the IOC, would have added to the already many doubts surrounding the Olympic Games, if we would have poured fuel onto this fire,” Bach said.

“It weighed on me, but in order to arrive at this day today, we had to give confidence, we had to show a way out of this crisis, we had to build trust, we had to build hope,” Bach revealed, once again thanking the IOC’s many stakeholders for their trust.

Business on the agenda of Tuesday’s session included reports and updates on Olympic Agenda 2020+5, the IOC Refugee Olympic Team, anti-doping, governance, ethics, finance, and amendments to the Olympic Charter, including an historic change to the Olympic motto – now “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together”.

The IOC also re-elected former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon for an additional four-year term as chair of the IOC Ethics Commission, a position that the Korean native has held since 2017.

Adams and Coventry Address Media After Session

Primary business for the second and final day of the IOC Session on Wednesday will be the election of Brisbane as the likely host city for the 2032 Games, a vote that many consider essentially a formality.

“Brisbane has worked very hard for this – they are the preferred candidate,” said IOC spokesperson Mark Adams, addressing media in Tokyo after the opening day of the session.

“This isn’t a done deal, because it’s still up to the Session decide – they could decide to put them back into the pot. There are a number of other candidate cities that are still interested parties, so that could happen,” Adams said.

Kirsty Coventry at the IOC Session in Tokyo (IOC/Greg Martin)
Kirsty Coventry at the IOC Session in Tokyo (IOC/Greg Martin)

IOC Athletes Commission chair Kirsty Coventry fielded a question about COVID-19 positive cases arising within the Olympic Village after a Czech beach volleyball player contracted the virus, becoming the third athlete joining two members of South Africa’s men’s soccer team.

“I’m not sure it’s fair to say that they are regularly popping up, but I think everyone is doing their best to ensure these are safe Games for everyone – the protocols that everyone is going for,” Coventry said.

“Obviously, if an athlete, coach or entourage member of the team within the village after coming into Japan tests positives then there are action to be taken straightway to ensure safety.

“Yesterday, when I was in the Village there were no concerns from any athletes that they raised with me – they were just sharing their excitement to get on with the Games,” said the Olympic swimming champion from Zimbabwe.

Adams also addressed Toyota Motor’s decision to withdraw Olympic-related TV advertisements, as the IOC’s top-tier sponsor appears to be distancing itself from the Games, amid lagging public sentiment in Japan. Toyota president Akio Toyoda will not attend the opening ceremony, the company also said.

He emphasized that the IOC’s long-term mobility partner continues its support in many areas of the Games, including providing sustainable mobility solutions transporting athletes, media and officials.

“I will leave it to Toyota, but we are very pleased and very proud of our agreement with Toyota, which runs through 2024,” Adams said of the Top Sponsor’s decision.

Homepage photo: IOC/Greg Martin

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