Tokyo Olympics organizers are moving forward with plans to have spectators at the delayed 2021 games, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Nov. 16.
Bach — who is in Japan for the first time since the 2020 Games were postponed — said that the IOC and Japan are putting together a “huge toolbox” to carry on despite the pandemic, and that vaccinating Olympic athletes and spectators before the event might be in the cards if a vaccine is widely available by next summer.
“At the appropriate time, we will be able to take the right tools out of this toolbox and apply them in order to ensure a safe environment for all participants in the games,” Bach said. “This makes us also very, very confident that we can have spectators in the Olympic stadia next year and that the spectators will enjoy a safe environment.”
If vaccines are available, the IOC would work with national Olympic committees to distribute it to athletes and carry some of the costs — but vaccination wouldn’t be a requirement for all participants, as has been speculated.
“There are some rumors going around … we never said this, that we can make it obligatory or a requirement [to get vaccinated],” Bach said. “We want to convince as many foreign participants as possible to accept a vaccine.”
Bach added that the timing of the decision on plans for spectators will be up to Tokyo organizers.
Prior to the official delay of the Tokyo Games in March, Japan had expected approximately 600,000 foreign visitors and over 11,000 athletes to attend the 2020 event, originally set to take place July 24 to Aug. 9. The new event will take place July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.
While Japan’s COVID-19 numbers initially looked promising, the nation reached a three-month high in new daily infections last week. The United States and Europe are also reaching record numbers after some early lockdown protocols were lifted.
Recent positive trial results from pharmaceutical company Pfizer and biotech company Moderna have raised hopes that a COVID-19 vaccine could be available before next summer.