The director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has given his full backing to the Olympic and Paralympic Games and said he hopes the Games can “ignite the solidarity and determination” to end the coronavirus pandemic.
Local enthusiasm for the Games has plummeted due to the worsening health situation in Tokyo, with 78% of Japanese declaring in a poll earlier this month they opposed the Games.
A number of athletes, meanwhile, have pulled out of events over health concerns while there is a subdued feeling ahead of the start of competitions as no fans will be in attendance in a first in the history of the modern Games.
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But WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave a message of optimism in his keynote speech ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony.
“May these Games be the moment that unites the world, and ignites the solidarity and determination we need to end the pandemic together,” he said.
The Games bring the nations of the world together in celebration: a celebration of sport; of health; of excellence, friendship and respect. But ultimately, they are a celebration of something even more important – of something that our world needs now, more than ever: a celebration of hope.
“I repeat: the world needs now more than ever a celebration of hope. The celebrations may be more muted this year, but the message of hope is all the more important.
"May the Olympic torch be a symbol of hope that traverses the planet. And may the rays of hope from this land of the rising sun illuminate a new dawn that is healthier, safer and fairer.”
The Tokyo Olympics will be the first Games to ever be held in a pandemic and Dr Tedros likened the event to previous Games held in the shadow of war and economic collapse, celebrating the fact the competition was going ahead despite so much disruption.
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He also insisted the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be safe and praised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the measures taken to minimise spread of the virus, even though there has been a smattering of infections among athletes and staff.
“Never before have they been organised in the shadow of a pandemic. And although COVID-19 might have postponed the Games, it did not defeat them,” he said.
“There is no zero risk in life; there is only more risk, or less risk. And you have done your best. The mark of success in the coming fortnight is not zero cases, and I know that some cases have already been detected. The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible, and onward transmission is interrupted. That is the mark of success for every country.”
Dr Tedros added that a successful Games could help the global vaccination effort and boost the WHO’s target of vaccinating 70 percent of the population of each country by mid 2022 to stave off the threat of the virus.
“May the message of hope resound from Tokyo around the world in every nation, every village, and every heart,” he said.
"The Olympic Games bring nations of the world together in competition as athlete strive to fulfil the Olympic motto of ‘higher, faster, stronger – together’.
"The motto applies equally to our struggle against the defining challenge of our time: we must be faster in distributing vaccines all over the world; we must aim higher in vaccinating 70 per cent of all the population of all countries by the middle of next year; we must be stronger in removing every barrier that stands in our way to expedite production; and we must do it all together, in solidarity.”
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