SYDNEY: The Olympic movement faces its biggest challenge in four decades in getting a streamlined Tokyo Summer Games up and running next year, but influential official John Coates believes it will happen.
Coates heads up the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Coordination Commission for the Tokyo 2020 Games, which were postponed until 2021 because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The 70-year-old Australian concedes there is uncertainty because of the continuing spread of the virus but thinks it is vitally important that the Games go ahead.
“We owe it to the athletes to make sure this happens and a generation of athletes don’t miss the opportunity of the Games,” the IOC vice president told Reuters in a telephone interview on Wednesday (Jul 29).
“I’m putting a lot of work into it and my gut feeling is yes, we will (have an Olympics next year).”
While there will be changes to reduce the cost of the event, and others to ensure the health of athletes, Coates said the desire was still very much to have spectators in the stadiums.
“The crowd are an important part of it and it is very much in our planning to maintain that,” he added.
To offset the increased costs caused by the postponement of a Games that was already slated to run up a bill of US$12.35 billion, the IOC and organisers have come up with more than 200 measures to simplify the Olympics.
“Not all will be adopted because we have to make sure they don’t affect the athletes and the sports, and that they are acceptable to both sides, but we’re working through them,” Coates said.
One change that was already agreed, he added, was to scrap a glitzy opening ceremony for the IOC meeting that traditionally precedes the Games.
“That will now be three speeches at the start of the session,” said Coates. “And that might save you half a million dollars.”
Coates said that the simplification of the Games was very much in line with IOC President Thomas Bach’s Agenda 2020 project, which aimed to make hosting the Olympics cheaper after the 2014 Sochi Olympics ran up a bill of US$60 billion.
Some of the adjustments for Tokyo might therefore become the “new norm” for hosting the Olympics, he said.
“What we’re having to do now, sure, it’s taking it to a new degree but it’s the intention of the thinking (of Agenda 2020),” he added.
“Some of those areas could well further reduce the complexity, and thus the cost, of hosting Games in the future. That’s the opportunity.”
Coates said since the postponement there had been no change in the relationship between the IOC and their Tokyo partners, from Yoshiro Mori, the former Japanese prime minister who heads the organising committee, all the way down.
“I’m actually amazed, from the day the decision was made to postpone, the enthusiasm and the attitude of just getting on with it is quite remarkable,” he added.
“They’ve maintained their motivation. I’m very, very impressed … This is a challenge they didn’t anticipate and they’re just getting on with it.”
Coates said the IOC was facing its biggest challenge since 1980, when the United States led a boycott of the Moscow Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
While not wanting to underplay the problems, he thought his close ally Bach’s commitment to overhauling the status quo would make it easier for the Olympic movement to ride out the crisis.
“In terms of the challenges I think we’re in better position because when Bach came in, his mantra was ‘change or be changed’,” he said.