This summer’s virus-postponed Olympics could be held in the back of closed doors, Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto told AFP on Friday, pledging to make sure the Games will be protected. Former Olympian Hashimoto said the Games could only be a success whether organisers “totally offer protection to” athletes and people in Japan, and that she is hopeful people will “be glad” the event went ahead. Out of the country spectators have already been barred from the Games, and this week a decision on domestic fans was once delayed until June, with organisers citing a new wave of infections in Japan.
“There might be a situation where we will’t allow any spectators to attend,” Hashimoto conceded in an interview.
“The only way that we will call the Games a success is whether we totally offer protection to the lives and health of athletes and the people of Japan.”
The general public in Japan back either a further delay of the Games or an outright cancellation, and a recent surge in virus cases has prompted a state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of the country.
With the medical system already under pressure, Olympic organisers have been criticised for requesting volunteer medical staff for the Games.
Hashimoto said cutting spectators could ease pressure on the medical system.
“Whether the event itself does change, I think it is going to be with regard to spectators,” she said.
“That is one area where we may be able to minimize the anxiety of people who find themselves worried approximately the medical system.”
– ‘Big responsibility’ –
The Games have never been cancelled outdoor of wartime and organisers have made it lucid that they see no opportunity of either further delay or a cancellation.
In a tender to win public confidence, they’ve released rulebooks mandating day-to-day testing for athletes and limiting their movement.
But there will be no quarantine required for athletes, and vaccines may not be mandatory.
Hashimoto said the rules would continue to be refined, and she felt “a big responsibility to show the Games will also be held safely”.
“I wish to show that clearly as we work towards the Games,” she said.
When the Games were postponed final year, officials said the delayed event would be held as proof that humanity had triumphed over the virus.
But with the pandemic still raging, Hashimoto said the emphasis would be on hope and unity.
“It’ll show that the world can come together no matter how tough times are. I think it is a time when we will show that we are united,” she said.
Japan has experienced a smaller virus outbreak than many countries, with just over 10,000 deaths despite avoiding the harsh lockdowns seen elsewhere.
But the recent spike in infections has played havoc with Olympic preparations, forcing changes to test events and qualifiers and prompting several regions to take the nationwide torch relay off public streets.
– ‘Lucid the way for women’ –
Hashimoto said organisers accepted that the situation would continue to change, and that they were running simulations to adapt as essential.
“The organising committee is considering what must be done to verify the event isn’t cancelled,” she said.
Olympic officials have defended their determination to continue with the Games despite the pandemic and public opposition, and Hashimoto said she wants “a lot of people to be glad that we held the Games”.
“My big goal is to prepare for the Games in a way that makes people feel that way.”
Hashimoto, 56, is former athlete who competed at seven consecutive winter and summer Games in speed skating and as a dash cyclist.
She took over as Tokyo 2020 president in February, after her predecessor was once forced to resign over sexist comments.
She was once up to now Olympic minister and one of just two women in the cabinet, and has pushed for better gender equality at Tokyo 2020.
But she said Japan is still not a place where women can feel they wish to get involved in politics or commerce.
“I wish to see an surroundings where it’s easier for a girl to put her hand up and say she wants to try this,” she added.
“I think my position is to lucid the way for more women of the next generation in an effort to do that.”
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