On March 25, the countdown to the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo began. The Olympic torch set out from Fukushima, where 10 years ago the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated the Tohoku region. Now the torch relay — and the upcoming competitions in Tohoku — is an opportunity to show the world the progress the region has made, and to express our thanks for the generous international support Japan received in the wake of those tragic days.
We are looking forward to bringing people together in new ways, as we develop initiatives to share support from around the world and connect with one another virtually.
Right now, the world is facing a different kind of struggle, the fight against Covid-19, which caused the Tokyo Games to be pushed back to this year. Countless people have experienced terrible suffering. Yet through it all, the medical community and essential workers have treated us and attended to our daily needs. Friends have supported us. Gratitude today leads to hope for tomorrow. And that is the message of the Olympic torch relay: “Hope Lights Our Way.”
Our first and most important priority is to create a safe environment vis-à-vis Covid-19. Thankfully, we’ve been able to learn from international competitions and the organizations that have hosted them during the pandemic, as roughly 30,000 athletes have taken part in 270 international sporting competitions since September. Together with the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, we have established a set of guidelines, or Playbooks, for all participants in the Tokyo Games to follow. These guidelines are critical for the safety and security of all.
Per these Playbooks, special apps will track health information for every participant starting two weeks before they come to Japan. A regular schedule of Covid-19 tests will begin prior to entry to Japan and continue throughout the participant’s stay. Physical distancing measures will be in place in competition venues and the Olympic and Paralympic Village.
Furthermore, all participants must commit to a basic code of conduct for the safety of themselves and others. This includes following an activity plan pre-registered by each participant covering the what, where, when and how of their activities and travel within Japan. Participants who fail to respect the code of conduct may ultimately lose their accreditation and with it their right to participate in the games. The Playbooks will be revised twice before the games begin to include the latest expert advice and situational updates.
Such rules have never been a part of the games before, but the response from participants has been incredible. We have heard from athletes, National Olympic and Paralympic Committee members and international sports federations, all letting us know that they are ready to do whatever is necessary to make the Tokyo Games a success.
I have been honored by their trust and positivity over the month since I took office as the president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee. I have been on the field seven times as an Olympian in speed skating and cycling and also behind the scenes as Minister for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, so I understand both sides of the games. I intend to draw on this experience as an athlete and a public servant, as well as on the invaluable support of competitors and games participants around the world, so that, united, we can deliver a truly safe and secure Summer Games.
Not all these decisions have been easy. On March 20, it was my sad duty to announce that overseas spectators will not be able to take part in the Tokyo Games. It was a heart-breaking decision, but one that is necessary to deliver the essentials of the games in utmost safety. Only by limiting numbers entering the country can we implement the rigorous health and safety measures for each individual that are necessary to ensure the safest possible environment for competitions.
We are sad to lose this special opportunity to welcome so many visitors to Tokyo. But we are looking forward to bringing people together in new ways, as we develop initiatives to share support from around the world and connect with one another virtually.
This year’s competition showcases the very essence of the Olympics and Paralympics: a celebration of peace, of potential and of humanity.
The Tokyo Games motto is “United by Emotion.” This is now truer than ever. Together we have faced this crisis. Together we have fought to overcome it. Together the world’s athletes will compete for glory. Together we will watch them strive to deliver the performance of a lifetime. And together, their strength and resilience will inspire us, as this year’s competition showcases the very essence of the Olympics and Paralympics: a celebration of peace, of potential and of humanity.
This will be the legacy of the Tokyo Games. As we overcome history’s first postponement of the Olympic Games, we will build a more sustainable society, further the ideal of unity in diversity and pass the baton to Paris 2024 and the future of the Olympic and Paralympic movement.
Wherever you are this summer, I hope you will join us as we make the Tokyo Games a light of hope: the light near the end of the darkness.