Thomas Bach: IOC 'of course' considering alternatives for Tokyo Olympics due to coronavirus

Nancy Armour

The International Olympic Committee is “of course” considering alternatives if COVID-19 makes it impossible to hold the Tokyo Games this summer, but president Thomas Bach indicated in an interview with The New York Times that cancellation is not one of them. 

Despite the worsening coronavirus pandemic, Bach reiterated that the IOC does not need to make any decisions now because the Opening Ceremony isn’t until July 24. Conditions are changing rapidly, and Bach said the bleak conditions now might change.

“We don’t know what the situation will be,” Bach told The Times. “Of course we are considering different scenarios, but we are contrary to many other sports organizations or professional leagues in that we are four and a half months away from the Games.”

Bach is hyper-sensitive to the prospect of depriving athletes of the chance to compete at the Olympics. A former fencer, he missed the 1980 Olympics in Moscow because of the U.S.-led boycott.    

“I can sympathize with these athletes because of my experience,” Bach said. “For an athlete, the worst thing for preparation is the uncertainty that distracts from training and preparations.”

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But he and the IOC have come under increasing criticism in recent days from athletes and national Olympic leaders begging for clarity.

Training is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, throughout much of Europe and North America. In the United States, most university athletic facilities and public gyms have closed. Two U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Centers have been shuttered.

Athletes also have expressed concern that, with as easily as COVID-19 spreads, they are putting themselves, and the general public, at risk if they continue trying to train.

“I will not speculate,” Bach said. “But we owe it to all the athletes, and we owe it to all the half of the world that watches the Olympics to say we are not putting the cancellation of the Games on the agenda.” 

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach speaks during a March 4 press conference.

While Bach’s comments to The Times appear to echo the IOC’s previous insistence that the Games will go on as planned, there has been a shift in messaging both from him and Tokyo organizers. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said earlier in the week that he wanted Tokyo to “hold the Olympics and Paralympics perfectly.” But, for the first time, Abe made no mention of a time-frame.

In his interview with The Times, Bach essentially ruled out cancellation of the Games, saying it was “not on the agenda.” But he refused to be pinned down about a potential postponement.  

“I have already answered,” Bach said when he was asked directly about postponing the Olympics. “We are committed to the success of these Games.”