Sebastian Coe expects Tokyo Olympics to go ahead after test event in Japan

  • World Athletics president understands ‘nervousness’ in Japan
  • Fans were discouraged from attending Sapporo half marathon

The World Athletics president, Sebastian Coe, says he understands the nervousness in Japan over hosting an Olympics during a pandemic – but believes the Games will go ahead safely after attending a half marathon test event in Sapporo on Wednesday.

Japan is battling a resurgence in coronavirus infections and opinion polls consistently find the majority of the public is opposed to the Games, which are due to open on 23 July.

Those concerns have been exacerbated by a slow vaccine rollout, with much of the country also under a state of emergency, and Coe said he recognised that many Japanese people had concerns.

“We take that nervousness very, very seriously,” he said. “We have Covid protocols that have been tried and tested, and I’ve witnessed them here. We take very seriously the health and wellbeing of local communities.”

“But the challenges are big. I don’t believe any Olympic Games has been delivered under more difficult circumstances. These Games have an overlay of complexity that is beyond most comprehension.”

There was a muted atmosphere during the test event as security guards stood with signs around their necks asking people to “please refrain from watching the race” to prevent infections.

However, a few onlookers ignored their pleas and clapped as Kenya’s Hillary Kipkoech won the men’s race in 1hr 46sec and Japan’s Mao Ichiyama won the women’s race in 1hr 8min 28sec.

Tokyo 2020’s deputy executive director of games operations, Yasuo Mori, said no one had tested positive for Covid-19, with the 69 athletes made to stay in hotels with no contact with the public.

Organisers will decide next month whether fans can attend events, but supporters from abroad have already been banned. However, Coe said that even if there were no crowds in stadiums “the Games will still take place and the competition will still be extremely good”.

Sebastian Coe inspects the half marathon test event for the Tokyo Olympics.
Sebastian Coe inspects the half marathon test event for the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: Issei Kato/AFP/Getty Images

Coe, who was head of the 2012 London Olympics, said it was “really important that when the world looks to coming out of Covid that it can see optimism.

“The Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games will be totemic of that optimism and hope going forward. So it is important that the Games are delivered successfully and they’re delivered safely.”

Tokyo is officially spending £11.1bn to hold the Olympics, but some estimates say it is twice that much. The IOC is pushing on with the Games, partly because 73% of its income is from selling broadcast rights.


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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