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Tokyo Olympics should go ahead as there’s no ‘huge health risk,’ says World Athletics President

The Tokyo Olympics should go ahead as there’s no major health risk, according to Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics and a member of the International Olympic Committee.

“They will go ahead and they should go ahead,” Coe told CNBC’s Tania Bryer on Thursday.

As Covid cases continue to rise in Japan and many other countries, approximately 10,500 athletes are preparing to fly to Japan to take part in the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Japanese Emperor Naruhito expressed concerns about the potential spread of the virus during the games last week.

“The emperor is extremely worried about the current status of coronavirus infections,” Yasuhiko Nishimura, grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, told a news conference, according to The Guardian.

“Given the public’s worries, he appears to be concerned about whether the event would cause infections to spread,” Nishimura added.

But Coe said he’s “not sure that there is a huge risk attached to this,” adding that he doesn’t think “any event in the last 40 or 50 years has ever had so much forethought given to the protection of the key assets, in our case the athletes, but crucially, the protection of the local communities that are going to be hosting our events.” 

The former Olympian, who won four medals for Great Britain in middle-distance running events at the Olympics, admitted that it’s not going to be business as usual for the athletes if the games do go ahead.

“There won’t be karaoke bars or trips around the Imperial Palace,” he said.

“If unfortunately, we do have any athletes that for any reason test positive after they’ve arrived in Tokyo — because they will be tested before and when they land — then you know, we have almost got sort of field hospital proportions, in terms of controlling it,” he said.

Around 70% of athletes only get “one shot” at competing in the Olympics in their career, Coe said, adding that it’s an emotional statistic for him at the moment. 

He stressed that World Athletics had held hundreds of events and two world championships over the last year, and “not one of our events has been a super spreader.”

Japan has reported over 800,000 cases of the coronavirus to date, and 14,750 deaths. On Wednesday, new infections in Tokyo ticked up to 714, the highest number in over a month.

Euro 2020 and Covid cases

It comes as the World Health Organization said on Thursday that the postponed Euro 2020 soccer tournament was driving the current rise in coronavirus infections in Europe.

The WHO said a 10-week decline in new coronavirus infections across the continent had come to an end and a new wave of infections was inevitable if football fans and others let their guard down.

New cases in Euro 2020 host cities climbed by 10% last week as crowds mixed following the easing of travel and social restrictions, the WHO said.  

“We need to look much beyond just the stadiums themselves,” WHO’s senior emergency officer, Catherine Smallwood, told reporters.

“We need to look at how people get there, are they travelling in large crowded convoys of buses? And when they leave the stadiums, are they going into crowded bars and pubs to watch the matches,” she added.

“It is these small continuous events that are driving the spread of the virus,” Smallwood said.


Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Olympic Games through 2032.

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