Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee president, has hailed athletes for giving “soul” to the Games and admitted he feared for the event after almost all spectators were barred.
However, his claims that the Tokyo Games had “far exceeded my personal expectations”, and had been a great success were widely criticised on Japanese social media with users calling him “an Olympic aristocrat who is trapped in a delusional shell”.
Speaking two days before the Olympics end on Sunday, Bach struck an upbeat note. “After we had to accept the decision by the Japanese authorities to have no spectators, I must admit we were concerned that these Olympic Games could become an Olympic Games without soul,” he said.
“But fortunately what we have seen here is totally different. Because the athletes gave these Olympic Games a great Olympic soul. From what I experienced at the Olympic village and the competition sites, I must say that the atmosphere has been more intense than ever before.
“Tokyo is the best-ever prepared Olympic city. This has proven to be true,” he said, citing reasons such as the “efficiency” of anti-Covid-19 measures implemented before and during the 17-day Games, which are mostly being held behind closed doors.
On Thursday, Tokyo’s confirmed daily Covid-19 cases hit another record high of 5,042. Bach insisted, however, that the spike in the number of cases was not linked to the Olympics, pointing out the 11,000 athletes had been in a bubble away from the population while everyone else involved in the Games had been regularly tested with very low rates of positives.
“Our mission was and is to keep the athletes safe and have no transfer from athletes to the population,” Bach said. “All the figures confirm this concept has worked. This is supported by the WHO and experts around the world. We have full confidence in the Japanese authorities and that they are addressing these in the right way.”
Bach said he had been impressed and surprised with the standard of competition given the challenges of the pandemic. “What we can see now is that these Games are coming at a moment where the world was longing for a symbol of hope.”
However Bach’s speech was soon the most trending item on Twitter in Japan, with the reaction generally hostile. “I’m angry,” wrote one user. “There wasn’t a word of hope for people who work at the risk of their lives in the medical field in order to support the Olympics.”