May 21, 2020
IOC Chief Thomas Bach Interview Transcript: Tokyo Olympics Could Be Cancelled If Not Held Next Year
Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, did an interview in which he talked about coronavirus and its impact on the Tokyo Olympics. He said the games might have to be scrapped if they’re unable to be held next year. Full transcript here.
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Mike Tirico: (00:00)
The president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, was kind enough to join us in late March when the games were postponed. He joins us a couple of months later. President Bach, it’s a very different and changed world as you sit there in Lausanne, Switzerland at the headquarters of the IOC. What is the latest in terms of the IOC’s view of Tokyo rescheduled for 2021? How are the replanning moments coming together?
Thomas Bach: (00:26)
It’s, in fact, a mammoth task to organize these postponed Olympic games, but I think we’re in good shape. We have built a task force together with our Japanese partners and friends, and the task force has the symbolic name, “Here We Go.” This is, in fact, the mood we are in attacking and addressing all the many challenges we have with this first ever postponed Olympic games, so there is no blueprint for this. We try to reinvent the wheel day by day, and I think we are making good progress.
Mike Tirico: (01:06)
What’s the hardest part of putting that wheel back together?
Thomas Bach: (01:10)
The hardest part, the first part is we have to secure the Olympic village and the venues. We have to look at the entire organizational model, and there, I must really applaud and thank the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee. They’re working extremely hard and effective in the typical Japanese way, so we are making already progress on this, but then it’s also to adapt the Olympic Games to the post-corona world, and that means that the messaging of the games and the whole presentation of the games has to be questioned. There is no [inaudible 00:02:05] for this, so we want to make these games games which are focusing on the essentials of the games. We want to make these games not only the great festival of unity of humanity and all our diversity and this demonstration for peace that are every four years, but the next year, these games should also be a celebration and a demonstration of solidarity of humankind, and as many are saying, as a symbol of a resilience of humanity.
Mike Tirico: (02:53)
That is all hopeful, and there is hope that we can get there we’re two months away and have no what July of 2020 will look like, so it’s pointless to talk about what things will be like in July of 2021. But the question of a vaccine has come up. There has to be a vaccine for the games to go on. What is the position of the IOC executive board regarding that at this point?
Thomas Bach: (03:17)
We have established one principal at the very beginning of all this discussion, even way before the postponement, and this is that the games must be organized offering a safe environment for all the participants. This is what we are working for. There, we have a joint task force with experts including the World Health Organization and including Japanese experts and international experts, and they are advising us, in this one year and two months until the games, what the measures will be needed to offer this safe environment. So at this moment, nobody can give you a reliable answer to the question of how the world will look like in one year and two months from now, but what we can say is we are committed and we stick to this principle, safe games for everybody.
Mike Tirico: (04:29)
The IOC has pledged $800 million to help the cause of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. %650 million is going to cover the operating expenses, and you detailed a lot of that in trying to get the village back and all the other venues. There’s another $150 million that will go to the international sports federations, the folks around the world that run each of the individual sports, and the national organizing committees. How much of a financial burden are those groups bearing right now, as there’s no competition globally in almost all of these Olympic sports?
Thomas Bach: (05:02)
This first $650 million, this is an envelope, which should cover the costs on the side of the Olympic Movement for the postponed Olympic Games. There, we are assessing jointly together with the organizers in Japan the other costs of these postponement. This is our part of the assessment, and we will continue to consult closely with the organizing committee in Japan with regard to the overall cost. This is the part which the Olympic Movement will bear and is ready to shoulder.
Thomas Bach: (05:52)
On the other hand, we have a very heavy impact of these crisis on the international sports federations and on the national Olympic committees. There, we have taken some immediate action with regard to the national Olympic committees. That means the Olympic team, the athletes at the end. There, we have extended all the support programs for the participation in the games for one year, and we have also extended the Olympic scholarships, from which 1,600 athletes from around the globe are benefiting to allow the Olympic teams from all the 206 national Olympic committees to continue their preparations, of course, while respecting the restrictions being in place in their different countries.
Thomas Bach: (06:58)
There are other measures being taken with regard to the international sports federations, because they have the problem twofold. On the one hand, the payment of the IOC for their participation in the success of the Olympic games has, of course, to be deferred til after the Tokyo games now taking place next year. At the same time, they are not in a position to have revenues from organizing their events, their world championships, continental championships, world cups, and so on. This is why there we have, on a case by case basis, heavily weighted to this situation. We will help these international federations to overcome their cashflow challenges they have because of this crisis, and we have also partnered up with the Swiss government, who initiated another support program, which then will be coordinated by the IOC so that we can bridge this gap with regard to the cashflow, and we can assist the IFs to start with international competitions then again as soon as the health situation allows for it.
Mike Tirico: (08:37)
President Bach, in our remaining moment, obviously we don’t know what the future’s going to look like regarding the coronavirus. How would you characterize your hopes that the games will be able to be contested and completed in Tokyo next July as we sit here now in May of 2020?
Thomas Bach: (09:00)
Well, we are working now with full commitment towards these postponed games. At the same time, because of this uncertainty, we have to think in different scenarios. We don’t know how the world will look like by then. We have to consider already now whether there will be measures necessary for access to Japan. For instance, do we maybe need to quarantine for athletes from different countries or for all the athletes from all the countries? How could this be managed? Do we need special measures for access to the venues? How many people can finally access the venues and so on and so on. This is part of this mammoth task I was referring to before, so we are now collecting as much expertise as possible and trying to prepare the best we can for all these different scenarios so that at the appropriate time, then we can take the appropriate decision, ensuring the safety there for all the participants.
Mike Tirico: (10:30)
And to be ready for 213 days where we’ll have the start of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the conclusion of the following winter Olympics in Beijing. It will be, hopefully, a very busy half year of time. President Bach, thank you for joining us. I’m glad to hear that you and your family are doing well and the things there in Lausanne are starting to get back to a little bit more normal activity. We hope for the continuation of that and look forward to visiting again here in the near future.
Thomas Bach: (10:59)
No, thank you very much, Mike, and all good wishes to you and to all our friends at NBC and to all the Olympic fans in the United States. We are looking forward to seeing a great and successful Olympic Team in Tokyo 2020 from US.
Mike Tirico: (11:22)
We echo your sentiments. Thank you, sir.