Tokyo 2020 organisers have convinced International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach that the Games can be held safely and, in all likelihood, with some kind of crowd inside the venues.
In his first visit to Japan since the global COVID-19 pandemic broke, Bach on Monday (16 November) said the nation had shown they can organise sporting events in a safe environment through recent competitions, which has given him the belief that the Games will go on with spectators present.
"We are looking for a reasonable number of spectators at the time of the Games", Bach said at a press conference following the first day of the Games's Project Review.
"You can organise safe sports events. We have seen in the professional leagues, particularly in baseball, games already under the restrictions now with spectators that have been very successful.
"Of course everybody in the Olympic Games would like a full house, a full-capacity stadium. But the top priority of the IOC and of the organising committee has always been, and remains, to offer a safe environment - also for spectators.
"We have seen through the test events that it is possible to have spectators in sports events and offer a safe environment at the same time." Bach added, two weeks after the Yokohama baseball stadium fully reopened to fans in a series of games that tested coronavirus countermeasures.
"This can be full capacity in the best case, this can be less in different cases. It’s too early to tell. Rest assured that safety is the first priority".
IOC to cover potential vaccine
The president also said that if a vaccine becomes available in time for the 23 July-8 August Games in 2021, the IOC would foot the bill.
A vaccine will not be mandatory for foreign participants at Tokyo 2020 although the IOC will strongly encourage its use out of courtesy and respect for the Japanese public, who according to various media polls, are anxious about the potential flood of visitors from overseas.
Earlier in the day, Bach met with both Prime Minister SUGA Yoshihide and Tokyo Governor KOIKE Yuriko, saying the IOC was "fully aligned" with them on how the Games should be run.
Bach made it clear he was not going to put a timeline on designing the protocol, with continued improvements expected over time, and tests ongoing regarding ways to keep fans and athletes safe.
"Nine months from now, we will even have more COVID countermeasures in our toolbox than we have now", he said. "You see new developments by the month, by the week.
"We can also be more confident that there will likely be vaccines available. So we can also put this into the toolbox.
"We want to convince as many foreign participants as possible to accept a vaccine. If a vaccine should be available, then the IOC would take this cost and then we can cooperate with the National Olympic Committees because we see this effort as a sign of respect for our gracious Japanese hosts.
We want to make sure that as many people as possible coming to Japan on the occasion of the Games to accept a vaccine so that the Japanese people can feel confident and protected.
IOC President Thomas Bach
Proof for Bach
In the weeks leading up to Bach's arrival, the game between the BayStars and Tigers at Yokohama Stadium - a Tokyo 2020 venue for baseball/softball - was opened to full capacity, drawing more than 27,000 fans.
On 8 November, the first major international sporting event of the COVID-19 era was held, the Friendship and Solidarity gymnastics meet featuring athletes from the United States, Russia, China and Japan.
Bach said it was events like these that instilled in him the confidence of Tokyo 2020's organisational ability and in only a day, has been duly impressed by the way the Japanese public follows the countermeasures.
"Hearing and reading the positive comments of all the gymnasts, particularly from Kohei Uchimura, this is what really convinced me that this event organised by (FIG President) Watanabe Morinori is a perfect 10", the German said.
"The immediate experience is that I’m very much impressed by the discipline of the Japanese people. Compare this to some experiences I had to make in Europe recently, it really is quite a difference.
The discipline in the end makes the difference. I haven’t seen a single person not respecting the rules. For me this respect is the difference.
IOC President Thomas Bach
By the Olympic Channel.