World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said there is a “cast-iron determination” to deliver the Tokyo Olympics, with COVID-19 vaccines and ability of athletes to train meaning the situation is better than when the Games were postponed last year.
The Japanese government and the IOC on Friday denied a report in Britain’s Times newspaper quoting an unnamed official as saying the Games would have to be cancelled.
“The government in Japan, the organising committee, the international federations and particularly the athletes are all unified in their determination to try to deliver a Games that is safe and secure,” Coe, himself a double Olympic 1,500 metres gold medallist, told Reuters.
“It’s a challenge but it’s the challenge that at this very moment all the key players are actually up for an that’s why I have a confidence, with the insights as an international federation – the number one Olympic sport – can bring to bear on that,” said Coe, who was head of the 2012 Games in London.
The Games were postponed from the summer of 2020 last March following the start of the pandemic but Coe said two big differences almost a year on left him confident they would go ahead from July 23.
“Firstly, there is the vaccine and we were a long way away from even thinking about that at this stage last year,” he said.
“And I know that at this stage (last year) athletes were beginning to find it really difficult to maintain their training regimes and that competitions were beginning to slide off the radar screen. Now they are having greater access both to training and competitions.”
“So there is an absolute cast-iron determination to deliver the Games but to deliver them in a safe and secure environment,” he said.
Coe conceded the event might have fewer spectators or even none at all, and that competitors would spend less time in Tokyo and have to maintain social distancing.
“At this moment we remain optimistic, but we know that this is going to be a Games that looks different, probably feels different,” he said.
Coe said he recognised that polls saying up to 80% of the Japanese people were against hosting the Games but added: “I can understand bystanders looking at this and being fearful – but I think that just reinforces for us the need to make sure that people do understand that sport actually is quite good at this.
“I want to reassure the Japanese people that we take this very seriously, with a rigorous focus on the COVID protocols.
“We have staged events with crowds in many places in the world; we’ve done it successfully and we haven’t produced a great spike in numbers.”
Coe said he was against the concept of compulsory vaccinations and did not like the idea of athletes taking priority ahead of vulnerable people or frontline workers, but did say the Games had a role to play in lifting the spirits.
“I think we recognise sport does play a really important part in our communities,” he said. “There are billions of people across the globe that want the Games to take place, the athletes and broadcasters want the Games to take place.”
Coe pointed to the importance of armchair fans, not just those with tickets to the events.
“Everybody wants stadiums full of noisy, passionate people – but if the Games have to take place without crowds, or certainly with fewer people in the stadium, I think the athletes, the world of sport, accepts that now,” he said.
“Do bear in mind that the vast majority of people watching the Games are not watching in the stadium, they are watching at home. And I think the Games can maintain its spirit and I hope it does because I do genuinely think that it’s a really important part of returning to some level of normalcy with an optimistic global outlook.”