International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach has praised cycling for showing that major events like the Tour de France and World Championships can be held during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an IOC task force keen to learn from cycling to help ensure the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games go ahead.
Bach spoke to international media, including Cyclingnews, in Imola while attending the road race World Championships in Imola. He again insisted the Tokyo Olympic Games would be held in July next year, admitting that different scenario exist depending on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic next summer and on the availability of a vaccine.
Road, track, BMX, BMX Freestyle and mountain bike events will all be part of the Tokyo Games, with the men's road race scheduled for July 24, six days after the end of the Tour de France. The women's race is scheduled for July 25, followed by the time trials and then track racing.
"Cycling has played a very particular role. There was the Tour de France and now the World Championships, the two most complex events so far at international level. The success of these events gives us and the entire sports movement a lot of confidence. I'd like to thank the UCI for taking on this responsibility and organising in a very responsible way," Bach said.
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"It makes all us very confident because we've seen in the last couple of months that you can big sporting events in a safe environment, even without a vaccine."
Bach has always defended his determination to hold the Tokyo Games. After they were postponed to 2021, he is hoping a vaccine and rapid testing can help ensure the games go ahead but is aware the COVID-19 pandemic is still evolving.
"I will not even speculate about a cancellation of Tokyo, we're preparing for Tokyo and preparing for different scenarios but we're preparing for the Games to start on July 23 next year," he said when asked about a deadline for a final decision.
"We're very confident that when it comes to Tokyo, we can then benefit from additional tools, in the fight against the virus. We've seen two developments: we will have more and more reliable so-called rapid tests, with a result within 15-20 minutes. Then the experts tell us that we can be very, very confident that we will have vaccines. This would greatly facilitate the organisation of the Olympic Games.
Bach said vaccinating everyone taking part in the Tokyo could help ensure the Games go ahead.
"A vaccine alone is not a silver bullet, it doesn’t resolve all the problems, but it could be part of our so-called toolbox," Bach said.
"Until a few weeks ago, we'd prepared for different scenarios. Then we got this encouraging news over the summer and so now we add the scenario that we could have vaccines available and rapid testing. There's a scenario where we'd protect all the participants at the games with an obligatory vaccination, or perhaps for different groups depending on the circumstances at the time."
Limiting the number of spectators at the venue, including the indoor velodrome, could be an option but the ever-changing status of the COVID-19 pandemic means it is too early to decide things now.
"Nobody can expect us to say: The games will look like this in ten months' time," Bach argued. "We and the governments don’t know the conditions we have to live in tomorrow. We don't know if next week you can leave your house if you have to wear a mask or not, where you can travel if you need to quarantine or not."
Bach is against simplifying the Games and refuted a tag of the 'Pandemic Games' for Tokyo.
"Tokyo will not be the Pandemic Games, they will be Games fit for the post-corona world," he said.
"We have to adapt to the new world we are living in. This will have an influence on the Games but they will keep their character of uniting the entire world. There will be the 206 Olympic Committees, the IOC refuge Olympic team, the village, the opening, and closing ceremonies. You will see and feel the Olympic spirit in Tokyo but adapted to the new world we are living in."
UCI president David Lappartient sat quietly as Bach spoke to the media. He has to secure the much-sought IOC Member status and so was happy to hear Bach praise the role cycling will have in a post-COVID-19 pandemic world.
"Cycling is a very important sport and the importance of cycling has grown tremendously in the last couple of months. If you look at the exploding number of people cycling, be it in real life, be it virtually, then you see a growing popularity. We hope this also extends to some Continents in the world where there is potential for cycling to grow," Bach said.
Bach only had one caveat: the sustainability of velodromes built or used for the Olympics. To save costs, the track cycling and mountain bike events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will take place in Izu, some 120km away from the Japanese capital.
"It means prioritising the use of existing venues. The velodrome can be the centre of an Olympic park or outside. The priority is for sustainability."