Amid protests and sleepless nights, IOC chief defends holding Games | Inquirer Sports

Amid protests and sleepless nights, IOC chief defends holding Games

/ 04:09 AM July 21, 2021

Thomas Bach: We had doubts every day. —AFP

TOKYO—Olympics chief Thomas Bach revealed “doubts” and “sleepless nights” over the postponed Tokyo Games on Tuesday as the opening ceremony nears after a year’s delay and coronavirus chaos that has made them deeply unpopular with the Japanese public.

Bach, speaking at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Tokyo, said the unprecedented step of postponing the Games had proved more complicated than he thought.

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The build-up to Friday’s opening ceremony has been exceptionally rocky, with Tokyo still under a state of emergency and public opinion consistently against the Games, which will be held largely without spectators.

“Over the past 15 months, we had to take many decisions on very uncertain grounds. We had doubts every day. We deliberated and discussed. There were sleepless nights,” said Bach.

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“This also weighed on us, it weighed on me. But in order to arrive at this day today, we had to give confidence, had to show a way out of this crisis,” he added.

Bach has drawn scattered protests during his visit to Japan, where the latest poll in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper showed 55 percent of respondents opposed holding the Games this summer.

Four people have tested positive in the Olympic Village, heightening fears that the influx of thousands of athletes, officials and media will add to a spike in cases in Japan.

A teenage US gymnast staying outside the Village was also among the 71 Games-related cases reported so far.

‘Cancellation not an option’

Olympic and Japanese officials have staunchly defended the Games, which are being held in a strict bio-secure “bubble” with daily testing. Eighty percent of athletes have been vaccinated.

“We can finally see at the end of the dark tunnel,” said Bach, adding: “Cancellation was never an option for us. The IOC never abandons the athletes … we did it for the athletes.”

The Olympics will mainly take place in empty stadiums to the sound of recorded crowd noises, starting with the opening ceremony in the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium.

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Filipino weightlifter and Rio de Janeiro Olympics silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz said the lack of crowds would somewhat be of a downer to competitors who love performing before audiences, but added that it was a trade-off she was more than willing to accept.“It’s sad that there’ll be no spectators; no one will be there to cheer ‘Philippines!’” the four-time Olympian told Inquirer’s SportsIQ.

Happy Hidilyn

“But at the same time, I’m just happy that the Olympics is taking place,” she added. “All of us athletes who qualified [for Tokyo] have been waiting for this and really want [the Olympics] to push through because who knows if we’ll still be good enough to qualify for the next Olympics?”

Diaz will be facing a tough road in her bid to better her finish in Rio.

Reigning world champion Liao Qiuyun of China is the hands-down favorite to capture the gold in the 55kg category of women’s weightlifting.

But her team believes she is ready for the challenge.

“She’s hitting [personal records] at this late stage in her career,” said strength coach Julius Naranjo. Naranjo said the presence of top-notch opponents will only motivate Diaz and added that she is ready “to put on a show” in Tokyo.

—REPORTS from AFP and June Navarro
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