Olympics: All athletes welcome at opening ceremony but officials capped at 6 per team

Following the decision in March to postpone the Games, the Olympics are now due to begin on July 23, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (XINHUA, REUTERS) - A maximum of six officials per national delegation will be allowed to participate in the Parade of Nations at the opening ceremony of the postponed Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on Wednesday (Nov 18).

However, the IOC's Tokyo Olympic Games Coordination Commission chairman John Coates, who attended a project review with Games organisers, insisted that the number of athletes at the ceremony would not be cut.

"We don't want to change the tradition that all athletes have the opportunity to parade at the opening ceremony," the Australian, who is also an IOC vice-president, told reporters.

Key IOC officials, including Coates and president Thomas Bach, had been in the Japanese capital earlier this week as a show of support for the organisers as they try to arrange the Games despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following the decision in March to postpone the Games, the Olympics are now due to begin on July 23, 2021.

The opening ceremony at an Olympics is typically a much-awaited spectacle and athletes' places are usually filled by officials from their national Olympic committees if they choose to focus on their preparations for their competitions. But this will not happen next year.

"The IOC executive board has already discussed this and we won't allow it this time," Coates added, noting that doing so "will increase the problem at the ceremony".

"We want to see the athletes from all 206 delegations and the refugee team in the opening ceremony ... The number of officials is limited to six."

Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori, however, was less enthusiastic about the possibility of seeing all participating athletes march into the Olympic Stadium, although he admitted that the parade in the opening ceremony was their "prerogative" and "no one can deprive them of their right".

"We have to have a secure and safe Games," he said, adding that people need to make some "sacrifice".

Mori said that it is still too early to make decisions because it might be not a problem to worry about.

"Maybe we should ask the opinions of the athletes," the former Japanese Prime Minister said. "Are they really eager to participate in the parade? Maybe they want to win the gold medals. Athletes may have different ideals. We should know their true feeling."

Rapid testing could be the key

Over 11,000 athletes are expected to descend on Tokyo for the Olympics and thousands more will come for the subsequent Paralympics. The majority will stay at the Athletes' Village.

Coates believed that a sophisticated and rapid testing method could be the key to safeguarding participants.

"We could do 40,000 to 50,000 tests a day of athletes at the moment," he said. "It may be a quick solution. That could be the answer for us."

He said that measures should be taken to avoid an "overpopulated" village and suggested that not only the athletes but also all referees should be tested.

When asked if he would discourage athletes from leaving the village for sightseeing, the Australian replied: "Yes."

"The athletes will understand their responsibility, to abide by the rules, which will guarantee their safety," he explained.

He added that the purpose-built village must be "the safest place in Tokyo" during the Games. "The athletes have to have confidence in the safety of that."

In a break with tradition, Coates said athletes would not be able to stay in the village for the entire duration of the Games.

"The athletes, once their competition finishes, will have one day, two days and then they will go home," said the Australian. "The period of staying longer, in a village, increases the potential for problems."

He said the IOC's athletes' commission had given organisers their full support.

The organisers did not finalise any concrete Covid-19 countermeasures in three days of talks and did not say whether spectators will be allowed in venues.

Tokyo 2020 chief executive officer Toshiro Muto said that more policies would be finalised in time for the organising committee's budget announcement next month.

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