TOKYO — The rescheduled 2020 Olympics will go on even if a state of emergency is declared in the city this summer, a top Olympics official said Friday, dismissing once again the suggestion that the coronavirus pandemic might force a postponement or cancellation of a global sports showcase that has already been delayed a year.
“We have successfully seen five sports hold test events during a state of emergency,” John Coates, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee, said during a news conference at the end of a three-day virtual meeting to address preparations. “All of the plans to protect safety and security of athletes are based around worst possible circumstances. So the answer is absolutely yes.”
Polls in Japan have shown that a significant majority of citizens would prefer another postponement or cancellation altogether of the games, which are scheduled to open July 23 — nine weeks from Friday — and run into early August.
In a letter sent Friday to national Olympic committees, athletes, broadcasters and others, Coates, who serves as the chairman of the IOC’s coordination commission for Tokyo, said the organization was now “very delivery-focused.”
“We’re doing it for the athletes,” Coates said in his news conference. “The desire of the athletes is as high as ever. We want to give athletes the opportunity to compete.”
Coates said that recent polls reflected the mood of the country at the moment but that “I am expecting as the number of vaccinations increase, public opinion will improve.”
But if popular opinion doesn’t improve, he said: “Then our position is, we just have to make sure that we get on with our job. And our job is to ensure these games are safe for all of the participants and all the people who might come into contact with the participants.”
Coates said he expected that 80% of athletes who arrived for the games would be vaccinated, and he noted that some countries — including his native Australia — are moving to vaccinate journalists and others headed to the games.
Japan is behind many wealthy countries in administering coronavirus vaccines to its citizens — only 4.1% of the populations has received doses — and at the moment only health workers and older people are eligible.
On Friday, in an effort to speed up vaccinations, Japan approved the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines for use in adults, giving the country much-needed new options. Previously, only the Pfizer vaccine had been authorized for use in Japan.
Japan is in the midst of a fourth wave of infections, and Tokyo and eight other prefectures are under a state of emergency that will last at least until the end of this month. Japan has been reporting about 5,500 cases a day, compared with about 1,000 a day in early March.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee, outlined measures she said would keep the games safe, including additional medical personnel and testing. But she acknowledged that many in Japan “feel uneasy at the prospect of people coming in from overseas and mixing.”
Members of the news media and others at the games will have their travel and access to athletes limited, organizers have said. In response to a question about those limits, Toshiro Muto, the games chief executive, said the rules were “based on consultations with various parties and we believe they are scientifically required.”
He said the so-called Olympics playbook for news media — an evolving list of guidance issued by the organizers — was not drawn up to limit their ability to report or move freely while in Japan.
“The playbook has not been compiled for the purpose of restraining freedom of the press,” he said. “These are COVID-19 countermeasures designed to protect people’s lives.”