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Hopes grow for allowing fans in as organisers are confident Olympics will run next year

The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said he is “very confident” the Tokyo Games will take place in 2021, as the “toolbox” of measures to counter Covid-19 continues to grow.

Thomas Bach spoke to journalists at a press conference this week (11 November) ahead of an IOC delegation visit to Tokyo next week (15-18 November) — the first since the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Bach said he was unable to confirm his exact agenda once in Japan as the timetabling of meetings was at the direction of his hosts but when asked if cancellation would be discussed, he replied with an emphatic “no”.

The 2020 Olympics was postponed in March after talks between Mr Bach and Japan’s prime minister Abe Shinzo. Work has since been under way to put in place coronavirus counter-measures that will enable athletes from the 206 national olympic committees (NOCs) to compete in the country’s capital next year.

“This visit comes at an important time, which is why we are undertaking it,” said Mr Bach, who has been isolating with the delegation for the past week ahead of his trip. “We are coming to a crucial stage putting the toolbox of Covid counter-measures together and we want to get a feeling of what will be needed [in Tokyo].

“We will be there to see the Olympic village and Olympic stadium and to be able also to speak with athletes. I hope that after this visit we can give even more confidence to the athletes and all the participants of the Games about the safe environment they will see in about nine months from now.”

Last week Tokyo held its first international sporting competition since the spring, hosting gymnastics teams from Russia, the USA and China.

“Japan has demonstrated they can organise an international event there even with the current restrictions in place,” Mr Bach said. “Nine months from now I think we can be sure, given the latest developments with regard to vaccination and rapid testing, that we will have more and better tools in the toolbox than the international gymnastics federation and the organising committee had this time.”

He said the IOC had been in contact with the World Health Organisation and a number of vaccine manufacturers to stay informed of developments and that different options for how athletes could be vaccinated were under consideration.

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“First of all [countries need to deal with the] the first wave of vaccination and what we are supporting very much is that this must be for the people in need — for the high-risk groups, nurses and medical doctors and for everybody who is keeping our societies alive,” he said, “In this context we will have further discussions again with all the experts, manufacturers, governments, health authorities with other NGOs to see how we can ensure a safe environment in the best possible way for every one in Tokyo.”

While “very confident about the Olympic Games starting next year on 23 July”, Mr Bach said he as still unable to confirm how many spectators would be present, but that “having seen the tests available in Japan”, hopes were growing for “reasonable numbers” of fans to be allowed in the Olympic venues.

“How many people and under which conditions again depends very much on future developments and the experience we are all [gaining] with the organisation of big sports events,” he added.

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