— Published 11 May 2021

Thomas Bach’s untimely postponement

thomas bach

The beginning of the week is quite dark for Tokyo Olympics’ organizers. Less than 80 days before the opening ceremony, clouds continue to darken its horizon, especially since a succession of not very reassuring events followed one another in just a few hours overall.

First, the announcement made at the end of last week by Seiko Hashimoto: the president of the Games’ organization committee, Thomas Bach, will not go to Japan in the end next week. The IOC president was supposed to land in Hiroshima, Monday, May 17th, to attend the passage of the Olympic flame. He was then expected to go to Tokyo for a series of very official meetings, notably with the Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, and the governor of the capital, Yuriko Koike.

The organizers of the Games announced it on Monday, May 10th: Thomas Bach’s visit is postponed, because of the extension of the state of emergency, in Tokyo and several other prefectures, until May 31st. It should have ended this Tuesday, May 11th.

According to the organizing committee’s press release, the travel of the IOC president will be rescheduled “as soon as possible”. But not before June, it seems.

The postponement of Thomas Bach’s visit isn’t decisive for the preparation of the Games. But it sends a worrying signal. It’s indeed difficult to imagine tens of thousands athletes, trainers, officials, partners and media outlets arriving in the country mid-July from all over the world, when the single visit of the IOC President was judged too risky two months earlier.

Other bad news for the organizers: the debate about whether the Games must be maintained or not, which is turning political. Not a good sign.

Yukio Edano, Japan’s main opposition party leader, called on the Prime Minister, Monday, May 10th, to suggest that it would not be possible to hold the Games in a complete safe way.

“Unfortunately, we are forced to say today that it is impossible to protect the life, health and livelihood of the Japanese people while holding the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said the leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party during a parliamentary session. “It would be unacceptable if holding the Games with insufficient sanitary measures triggered the introduction of new coronavirus variants from abroad.”

The day before, Yukio Edanoa had taken advantage of an online television program to open hostilities, suggesting that the arrival in Japan of athletes and staff from all over the world would be like an “exposure” of highly contagious variants discovered in Britain, South Africa and India. The political leader said such visitors should not be exempted from a quarantine period upon entering Japan.

At the same time, another member of the Constitutional Democratic Party, Kazunori Yamanoi, also directly attacked the Prime Minister, accusing him of putting the Games at the forefront of his concerns, at the expense of the fight against COVID-19.

Yoshihide Suga defended himself. He also repeated that all foreigners present in Tokyo for the Games will have to follow the strict guidelines imposed by the organizing committee, at the request of the government. Severe sanctions will be applied if they are not respected.

“It is my responsibility to implement those measures to preserve the life and health of the Japanese people and to do everything in my power to ensure that the Games are held safely,” said the Prime Minister. This slogan is known, but it is not enough to reassure people.