TOKYO (Reuters) – Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics will welcome Thomas Bach next week with a spring in their step, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president is sure to ask demanding questions in private, even if his support remains unwavering in public.
The visit will be Bach’s first to the Japanese capital since he and former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in March decided to postpone the Games because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
His arrival comes after Tokyo last week hosted a successful international gymnastics meet where a variety of COVID-19 counter-measures were tested, and with news of a potentially successful vaccine from Pfizer Inc on the horizon.
In a video message broadcast during the gymnastics meet, Bach said the event gave confidence the Olympics can go ahead next year, even if it has to be held with coronavirus restrictions.
Before the postponement decision, Bach praised Tokyo as the “most prepared” Games host city he had experienced and the former fencer is expected to convey a similarly positive message this time around.
However, despite what Bach may say in public during his two-day trip, he will also be pushing Tokyo 2020 organisers to formulate concrete plans for the rearranged Games and looking for further cost-reduction measures.
The two key areas Bach will want to hash out with organisers are whether spectators will be allowed in venues, and how best to safely accommodate over 11,000 athletes arriving in Tokyo from across the world.
“It (the trip) is important because we are now coming to a crucial stage of putting this toolbox together with COVID-19 counter-measures to get the feeling what will be needed next year,” Bach said on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said the Japanese government was planning on allowing athletes into the country without mandating a 14-day quarantine period..
During the visit, which begins on Monday, Bach is expected to meet with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and will award his predecessor Abe with the Olympic Order, the IOC’s highest accolade, for his support of the Games.
Bach will also meet with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, visit the newly-built National Stadium, and hold a news conference alongside Tokyo 2020 organisers.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)