In a wide-ranging interview, Bach told Eurosport he believes the re-arranged Tokyo 2020 Games can bring the world together and unite people after a very difficult time.
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Why will the Games in these unprecedented circumstances be more important for this changed world?
Bach: These Olympic games can really be the light at the end of the dark tunnel human kind is in at this moment. They can be a great symbol of hope and resilience, but also of solidarity. What we have learned from this crisis is that we can only overcome it if we are in solidarity with each other. The games can be a wonderful expression of this worldwide solidarity.
Why will the success of these Games be measured in different parameters to normal?
Bach: The success of the Games will, as always, depend first of all on sport. But the message, which is linked to the Games and which is the DNA of the Games, is uniting the entire world in a peaceful competition. You have all the 206 National Olympic Committees together with the IOC Refugee Olympic team really representing the unity of humanity in all its diversity.
The Games in Tokyo will add to this message of the Games - the message of solidarity and resilience. There the athletes can really shine, because they have already shown how resilient they were. They did not only take the challenge, they helped others by presenting workouts, by giving them boosts, by motivating them to overcome this crisis. In this way, these Olympic Games can and will be very special, because they will demonstrate the wider relevance of sports in society.
Thomas Bach: Olympic Games can be 'light at end of tunnel'
Can athletes and the Olympic Movement function as role models and figureheads in a changed world?
Bach: You have seen what people were longing for during this confinement: that was sport. You could also see how important sport is for physical health, but also for mental health. The athletes played a great role in our programme, “Stay strong, stay active, stay healthy”, which on Olympic Day was introduced to half a billion people around the globe. They were showing to everybody how they are taking on this challenge and what they are doing under these difficult circumstances. People realised that sport is very important during this crisis, but they also realised that sport will remain very important in the post corona world.
With only six months between the Tokyo and Beijing Games – what chances and opportunities do you think this offers the Olympics?
Bach: I think it is a good opportunity, because the worldwide awareness of the Games in Tokyo can be transferred, at least in parts, to the Winter Games in Beijing. We will not see a big gap between the two Games. By experience, the awareness of the Games goes down very much after the closing ceremony. This time, the day after the closing will be the day we will already start to prepare for Beijing.
You have made the Agenda 2020 a very important part of your Presidency. This Agenda also contained making the Olympics more attractive for a younger audience. How do you assess the progress that has been made? Why are the Games now more attractive for them?
Bach: I think we see already very good results. If we look on the ratings, for example, of the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, there you can see that in particular on your digital platforms, the figures were doubling from the previous Winter Games. This means that the young generation is there. We will see that even more in Tokyo where we have five new sports, which are for the youth: climbing, skateboard, surfing, karate and the great national sports of baseball and softball for our Japanese friends. There is further progress to be expected, and in Paris we will see a breaking on the Olympic programme, most likely. We are on the right track and the youth is back to the Olympics.
Thomas Bach: Olympic Games in Tokyo can 'unite the world'
How do you see the likelihood of the pandemic threatening to cancel the 2021 edition of these Games?
Bach: We have to prepare for multiple scenarios with the Games. We don’t know how the world will look in one year. Actually many people do not know how their world will look tomorrow; whether you can leave your house or go to a restaurant, with or without mask. Imagine the mammoth task we have to do to prepare for the most complex event of the world in one year from now. So we are preparing for all the different scenarios. There is only one principle firmly established: the top priority is that these Olympic Games will only take place in a safe environment for everybody.
Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori has stated that, in his opinion, a vaccine is the key for an Olympic go-ahead in 2021. Does the IOC agree with that, or is there a chance for a go-ahead even without a vaccine?
Bach: We are all looking forward to having a vaccine, because this would help humanity. Therefore we are of course closely monitoring the recent developments. We have seen in the last couple of days very promising news from different parts of the world. As far as the Games are concerned, we will continue to be guided by the advice of the World Health Organization. They have already issued their risk management and medication measures paper with regard to what they are calling “mass gatherings”, what the Games without any doubt are. We will continue to follow their advice.
What are the other options, e.g. no fans allowed? Is there room for compromise in the framework?
Bach: What we want is obvious. We want full stadiums with enthusiastic fans from around the world. But not everything depends on our wishes. We have to prepare for multiple scenarios and this makes the preparation of these Games so incredibly difficult. Normally you prepare for one format of the Games. You have a venue, you have sports, you have an Olympic village and then you organise the Games. Here you don’t know so many things. You don’t know the status of the pandemic. Will it be over? Will it still be virulent? Will it be less virulent? It does not concern only one country, it is for 206 countries. All of this we will have to take into consideration. We really do not envy ourselves there.
Image credit: Getty Images
Does the IOC see room for adapting with no fans, or is it a case of no spectators, no Games?
Bach: In this world you have to adapt. We are working to optimise the Games, to simplify the Games, to adapt it to the time we are living in. We are not living on a spacecraft, we are in the middle of the world society. So we have to adapt the Games to this world, however it will look.
The IOC has stated that these Games can be turned into a celebration of unity, solidarity and humankind and has established the hashtag #StrongerTogether. The BLM movement stands for similar values. How will the IOC react if athletes decide to peacefully protest during competition or kneel during the opening ceremonies?
Bach: First of all, the athletes can express themselves in so many different ways: on social media, in press conferences, in interviews, in team meetings. They can even appear on Eurosport and make their views known. What our rule is addressing is the field of play and the ceremonies. There the rule says there should be respect, also for the other athletes who are on the podium or taking part. There should be concentration on the sport. Having said this, we appreciate very much how the Athletes' Commission initiative are now having discussions with the worldwide athletes' community on how they can express their support for the Olympic values, in particular of non-discrimination, in a dignified and non-divisive way. The Games are maybe the most vivid demonstration of non-discrimination. You have all the athletes living together under one roof in the Olympic village. You have competition with each other, everybody respecting the same rules. We have wonderful examples from the past on how this message has got across. To get this massage across in a dignified and non-divisive way, that is the purpose of the dialogue of the Athletes' Commission.
What do you make of the first ever cooperation between Eurosport Germany and the German Olympic federation (DOSB) through a daily live show from the German House?
Bach: It is fantastic to see that an IOC partner like Eurosport/Discovery is supporting so much the National Olympic Committee. It is the National Olympic Committee of my home country, so I appreciate this even more. I still remember wonderful moments at the German House in Pyeongchang, where I could experience this wonderful atmosphere. The athletes had another stage to shine and to get their message across. Not only the DOSB, also the IOC, can be very grateful to Eurosport/Discovery for this innovative approach.
What was your view of the way Eurosport covered the 2018 Olympic Games after your visit to the facilities and introduction to technical innovations such as 'The Cube'?
Bach: It was amazing to see how, in such a short period of time, Discovery was really innovative and was giving a new image to the coverage of the Olympic Games. I could see also in the times of confinement that Discovery and Eurosport continue to be very innovative. I was following a number of your programmes around athletes in their homes and environments. It was great to see how you took this situation as an opportunity for innovative broadcasting. We are really looking forward now to what you are have up your sleeves for Tokyo.
What do you make of the way Eurosport uses former Olympic athletes as experts for its coverage?
Bach: That is how, from my point of view, you can the sports across best, if you have athletes who can not only judge what is happening on the field of play, they can also feel with the athletes and know what they are having on their minds and what they might be thinking and feeling. That makes reporting very authentic.
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