Sebastian Coe praises athletes' resolve for Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021

World Athletics President gives thumbs-up to Tokyo 2020 preparations for Games athletics competition, says athletes don't want to "sit out the dance" despite Covid-19 challenges.

4 min
(Picture by 2021 Getty Images)

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe hailed the strength of athletes for their continued commitment to the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021 against the backdrop of the global pandemic.

On Sunday (9 May), at the Ready Steady Tokyo Athletics meet at the Olympic Stadium, Coe made no illusion of the stark reality currently hitting Japan as well as the rest of the world.

A third state of emergency, just extended to the end of May, has deepened public concern as to what the country will look like on 23 July at the Opening Ceremony.

But Coe said the athletes would still rather be here this summer than not, despite the situation being less than ideal for anyone participating in the Games.

"I speak to the athletes all the time", Coe said during a press conference. "I am consistently bowled over by the way they are dealing with, by the day, some of these restrictions and some of these added challenges.

"Is it perfect? No. Are they accepting of that situation? Yes. The vast majority of athletes I speak to wanting to get into the Games are understanding that it will not be the type of Games they’ve experienced before.

"The athletes have demonstrated the most extraordinary resilience and fortitude over the last year or so. They are also understanding that this is not under any circumstances business as usual.

"I think everybody is in the same boat here. In track and field we know the athletes are not going to be in the village until a few days beforehand. The chances of them being in holding camps are limited.

"But they still know they would rather be here than sit out the dance. It’s important for them".

The Olympic Stadium housed its final athletics test event before the Tokyo Games open on 23 July.
The Olympic Stadium housed its final athletics test event before the Tokyo Games open on 23 July. (2021 Getty Images)

Coe has spent the week checking out the marathon course in Sapporo and the set-up at the Olympic Stadium, as well as meeting with Tokyo 2020 President HASHIMOTO Seiko and Tokyo Governor KOIKE Yuriko.

Sunday was the last athletics event that will be held at the venue before the Games open in two-and-a-half months. Spectators were not allowed in due to the state of emergency.

While he admitted Sunday is no comparison in terms of scale for the 30 July-8 August athletics competition at the Games, Coe was happy with all the measures that will be in place.

"The Covid protocols, particularly what World Athletics have developed over the last year and a half, with health and science teams who are extremely good athletes have consistently helped deliver events in a safe and secure environment", the two-time Olympic champion said.

"And yes, I recognise that nine athletes coming for a test event in Tokyo is very different from thousands of competitors coming to this city over the course of the summer months.

"But just recently, a week ago, I was in Poland for the World Relays. We have 31 countries. We had 700 competitors, and not one of those competitors left having tested positive and the protocols and the systems in place were clear".

And the former chief organiser of London 2012 remained confident that it will be worthwhile for Tokyo to hold its second Games, its first since 1964, and the benefits will be felt for a very long time.

"Why should the Olympics take place? Because they are the premier sporting event in a four year cycle. They are very much more than a sporting event.

"I can't think of any other activity which has the ability to pull communities in amid differences of ethnicity, belief or geography, bounding together in the way that a major sporting event can. I've seen it the whole of my life and I will go to my grave knowing that that has a profound impact.

"And I think these games will leave a strong, lasting legacy, not just for Japan, but at a time when the world is coming to terms with, you know, some pretty, you know, difficult and harrowing months".

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