TOKYO – The world needs to see that Japan can host a safe Olympics, the country’s prime minister told sports officials on Tuesday ahead of the Tokyo Games.
Tens of thousands of athletes, officials, game personnel, and the media are arriving in Japan amid a state of local emergency and widespread opposition from the general public.
The events begin on Wednesday, in women’s softball and soccer, two days before the formal opening ceremony of an Olympic Games that have already been postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The world is facing great difficulties,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told members of the International Olympic Committee at a closed-door meeting at a five-star hotel in Tokyo, adding that “we can bring success to fruition. of the games”.
“This fact has to be communicated from Japan to the rest of the world,” Suga said through an interpreter. “We will protect the health and safety of the Japanese public.”
He acknowledged that Japan’s path through the pandemic to the Olympics had gone “sometimes backwards sometimes.”
“But the vaccination has started and, after a long tunnel, we now have a way out in sight,” Suga said.
The prime minister’s office said Monday that more than 21% of Japan’s 126 million people have been vaccinated.
Japan’s health experts have questioned the possibility of allowing so many international visitors to the games, which end on August 8. There will be no local or foreign fans at the events. The Paralympic Games will follow in late August.
IOC President Thomas Bach praised vaccine manufacturers for working on a dedicated Olympic launch and singled out Pfizer BioNTech for “a truly essential contribution.”
This cooperation meant that “85% of the residents of the Olympic Village and 100% of the IOC members present here have been vaccinated or are immune” to COVID-19, Bach said.
About 75 of the 101 IOC members were in the room for their first in-person meeting since January 2020. Their two previous meetings, including Bach’s re-election in March, were held remotely.
The IOC declined to say whether any unvaccinated members had been asked to stay away. A member who did not attend the meeting, Ryu Seung-min from South Korea, tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving on a flight on Saturday.
Bach has received anti-Olympic chants from protesters on visits to Japan since arriving two weeks ago, including a state welcome party with Suga on Sunday.
The IOC leader praised his hosts on Tuesday, saying that “billions of people around the world will follow and appreciate the Olympics.”
“They will admire the Japanese people for what they accomplished,” Bach said, insisting that the games send a message of peace, solidarity and resistance.
Canceling the Olympics was never an option, Bach said, because “the IOC never abandons the athletes.”
The staging of the games will also secure more than $ 3 billion in revenue from broadcasters around the world. It helps fund the Swiss-based IOC, which shares hundreds of millions of dollars among the 206 national teams and also with the governing bodies of Olympic sports.
Bach said the IOC is contributing $ 1.7 billion to the Tokyo organizers of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
IOC decisions taken on Tuesday, approval proposals sent by the executive board chaired by Bach:
– The sport of ski mountaineering was added to the program of the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo. It’s about skiing and going up and down mountainous terrain. Five medal events in sprinting and singles for men and women, and a mixed relay, must be created.
– The Olympic motto “Faster, Stronger, Stronger” was updated to include the word “Together”. The formal motto in Latin will now be “Citius, Altius, Fortius – Communis”.
– The IOC formally recognized the governing bodies of six sports: lacrosse, cheerleading, kickboxing, muay thai, sambo and ice sport.
– IOC spending was $ 55 million more than its income in 2020, when most of the income from the postponed Tokyo Olympics could not be declared. A “solid and solid” financial position was reported with IOC fund balances, of assets exceeding liabilities, by nearly $ 2.5 billion.
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Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press