DURING A MEDIA TELECONFERENCE THIS THURSDAY, FOUR INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE (IOC) DIRECTORS ADDRESSED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE COMPLEX CHALLENGES RESULTING FROM THE HISTORIC DECISION TO POSTPONE THE OLYMPIC GAMES TOKYO 2020 TO THE SUMMER OF 2021.
The IOC directors joining the conference were Christophe Dubi (Olympic Games Executive Director), James Macleod (National Olympic Committees Relations and Olympic Solidarity Director), Kit McConnell (Sports Director) and Timo Lumme (Television and Marketing Services Managing Director).The Olympic Charter says the Summer Games should be celebrated during the first year of an Olympiad. With the Games start now postponed, does it mean you have to change the Olympic Charter? Does the IOC Executive Board have the right to change the Charter without the approval of the majority of the IOC Members?
Christophe Dubi: We are not going against the Charter. What we have done here is to make sure that the number-one mission of the IOC, which is to ensure the celebration of the Games, is fully respected. In that sense, we are not going against or changing the Charter. It is going in the direction of what the core mission of the IOC is. And I think everybody would agree with the decision that has been made. How do you evaluate the impact of the postponement on the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022?
Christophe Dubi: Actually, we see this as a formidable opportunity. We will be in a context where Tokyo will generate an immense follow-up. The reach of the Tokyo Games will be absolutely stunning. And right after the excitement has been generated, we will then have the Winter Games in Beijing a few months later. We truly believe that it is a great build-up towards the Beijing Games. We are discussing with the Organising Committee, and internally with our partners, how to maximise this opportunity to have, for once, two editions of the Games that are not too distant, but which follow quite closely one after the other. We are looking really at the bright side of things when it comes to this opportunity to have back-to-back Games of the Olympiad and Olympic Winter Games.Right now, Tokyo and Japan are seeing gradually increasing numbers of positives for the new coronavirus and may face much stricter controls all around the Asian continent in the near future. And in Switzerland, you are also working remotely. You have just described enormous tasks to redo six years or more worth of work within these next 16 months. How is this remote situation, as well as the coronavirus situation, affecting your work to accomplish your tasks?
Christophe Dubi: First and foremost, it is about health, about one’s health, about the family, friends, and why they all have, we all have to do the right thing when it comes to health. Everything we have done is driven by that motto: health is first. As a result, no more travel, obviously. What we do is to organise the work by video conference, by teleconference, which means reorganising ourselves in a new way to do business. We had, of course, done that in the past, but now this has been much wider because it is both internally within the IOC, and IOC with Tokyo 2020. And it works.
There is great diligence in the meetings, the agendas are very clear. Everybody that takes the floor does it in a very structured way. We are really working very efficiently, although it is always nice to be with the counterparts, because human interaction is what we are designed for. Also, we are following up the development in Japan and around the globe with an All-Partners Task Force that allows us to have a constant appraisal of the situation. We are very fortunate to have WHO (World Health Organization) helping us as well as the sanitary authorities in Japan. This is tremendously helpful.What is the real impact of this coronavirus situation, as well as this unprecedented postponement, on the Olympic Movement? You have been promoting the value of sport, then, in a sense this is replaced by the fear for the future of the world. And sport, it seems, does not have any place in this current society. How should sport and the Olympic Movement survive this?
Christophe Dubi: I will first give an answer about the way we see things when it comes to the Games and the Games in the future knowing that we have a lot of interest for 2030, 2032, and beyond. One thing that has really changed the environment in which we operate is Olympic Agenda 2020 and the New Norm. It is very well understood that anyone projecting itself in the future will do so on a different financial basis, because the Games will cost far less in the future than they did in the past. Some of the measures have already helped Tokyo, but there is also much more flexibility to envisage Games and everything that can happen in and around the Games.
That flexibility means that you have far less risk for the Games organisation when you consider, for example, a master plan like the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026, where the budget is much lower than any Games prior. No need to build anything and a spread of the load of the Games over several clusters of venues. I really believe that the work has been done to give flexibility and all the opportunities to any of the future interested parties to have adaptable and light projects. From this standpoint, we are really well covered. But probably some of my colleagues will want to add to this.
Kit McConnell: The principles that Christophe identified are those that the IOC put in place very early: putting the health of the public and the athletes as the very first principle on which all of the decisions related to the Games would be based.
This is also reflected in the wider world of sport. At the moment, there is no sport happening. We are all feeling the lack of sport on the field of play in our lives, having got so used to almost 24-hour coverage of sports events from around the world. But you also see the response from the whole sport movement around the world: the athletes, the clubs, the federations, the events themselves, and organisations like the IOC are supporting that message of public health. They are doing so by using the profile of some of the biggest name athletes through to some more locally known. They are all being very active in supporting the messages that the health authorities are giving, be that stay at home, take specific precautions or act in specific ways. And equally giving hope and advice to people about how to stay active, how to address some of the mental health challenges an athlete or others may face while staying at home. All of these things about being positive, as well as realistic, and adapting to the current environment. This message of hope and engagement is one that has come across incredibly strongly from the whole international sport community.
If we look forward to once the restrictions are lifted, once the world finds its way through this, addressing the challenges of COVID-19, sport and the Olympic Games in particular next year are going to come back and play an even more important role in giving people something positive, hopeful and exciting to focus on again. The Olympic Games will bring all of that together in the summer of next year. In the first instance, continuing that place that sport has by exciting and encouraging people, giving advice and support. And then secondly providing that beacon of hope as we look forward to next year.
James Macleod: In the discussions that we have had with the NOCs (National Olympic Committees) in the last few weeks, we have seen a very strong solidarity between them and the countries to help each other get through this whole process. We have seen this in exchanges of information on best practices, how their athletes are preparing in these difficult circumstances, etc. Now we are under no illusions. This obviously will have an impact in the future. NOCs are already looking at how they are going to be working and operating in the future, but what we have managed to do immediately is to reassure them with some of the key programmes we are preparing for the Olympic Games.
You may have seen yesterday that we confirmed already Olympic Solidarity scholarships for athletes that are preparing for the Tokyo Games and the refugee athletes support programme. These are very important programmes for NOCs to have that assurance their athletes will continue to get support in the lead-up to the Games. We have over 1,600 scholarship holders from 185 NOCs that are currently benefiting. The feedback we got from the NOCs on that one move, which was important for us to make quickly, is it allows them to look forward in a positive way to say the team that they will be sending to the Games will still get that support.You said that you are planning to lock down the venues in the coming weeks. Does that include the Olympic Village?
Christophe Dubi: The Olympic Village is part of the first priority as it is the athletes’ home away from home. It is a fantastic development that has been made. Yes, one of our first tasks is to re-secure this fantastic property that has been developed and will become, as of 2023, a new community in the Bay of Tokyo. Absolutely, it is part of that urgency list where we want to tick those boxes.For the 57 per cent of those athletes who can keep their spots, is their qualification dependent on, again, being selected by their NOC?
Kit McConnell:We have tried to provide certainty in all of our decisions. The first one being the postponement of the Games, to take that uncertainty away from the athletes. The second one, the clarification on the dates, to give as much clarity around the qualification system as possible.
The first thing we confirmed to the IFs, to the NOCs and to the global athlete community, was that the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 remain the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. All of the qualifications that have been achieved by an NOC or by an athlete remain in place.
As defined in the Olympic Charter, any athlete that goes to the Games needs to be individually selected by their National Olympic Committee because they are representing the NOC. Across the 33 sports, about 57 per cent of all the 11,300 quota places have already been gained on the field of play in qualification events. In some sports, like combat sports or those that are based on individual rankings, such as golf and tennis, the qualification goes to a specific athlete that achieves that qualification place. In other sports, like rowing, canoeing and sailing, it is the boat that is qualified by achieving certain results. But in all sports, the NOC retains the right to select the individual athletes from anyone who is eligible to fill that place, and this will remain in place for the Games next year.Does the NOC have the final word and does this include the 23-year-old footballers who were eligible this year, but will not be eligible next year?
Kit McConnell: One of the interesting things with moving the date is that not only in football, but in several sports, there are specific age regulations in place, be it a minimum age or a maximum age. In some cases that is designed for health and safety reasons. In others, it is to provide a specific age group and, in particular, men’s football, where we have the restriction to under 23 with the four players over that date.
As you can imagine, we are only a few days after the decision about exactly when the Games are, but we are in discussions with each of the Federations, including FIFA, where these age regulations are specified in the qualifying systems. We hope to finalise this in the next couple of weeks for everyone’s certainty. No decisions yet, but you can imagine there is a logic to looking at this and having the same athletes or teams that have achieved the qualification place to be the ones taking part next year. We are aiming to confirm this with the respective International Federations, including FIFA, in the next couple of weeks.The payment schedule for the broadcasters is usually quite close to the Games. Are you going to get them to pay upfront because a lot of the smaller IFs (International Federations) and NOCs are relying on this money?
Timo Lumme: The broadcasters’ obligations were targeted towards this summer and now we are going a year later. Just having announced the new dates at this moment, we are only getting into all of this now, but we will be talking to all the broadcasters to make sure that we come up with an equitable solution. You can imagine it is a little bit early on and all these arrangements are always subject to contract, but we will be looking to find fair solutions with all the broadcasters to make sure that we are supporting them as they continue to plan for coverage of the Games in 2021.Would the IFs and NOCs require this funding, though? Where is that going to come from if the broadcasters are not able to contribute?
Timo Lumme: This is part of an overall plan the IOC is working on. We have both the supply side from the broadcasters and the demand side from our constituents.The Japanese said this postponement is going to be quite expensive. What is the IOC doing to mitigate some of those costs? Is it going to share some of them? Are they also going to reduce some of the service levels to the IOC, NOCs, like hotel room allocations, family and friends, staff, cars, etc?
Christophe Dubi: First thing is sport, sport and sport. It remains front and centre of everything we do. We can guarantee that it is going to be the same great delivery when it comes to the core. The athletes at the very centre as well, where nothing will be touched here so they can maximise their performances and we can all witness them. When it comes to all of us, and I mean the media organisations, the IOC and everyone that has an operational role in Tokyo, we are facing a different landscape. We have to look at whether we are going to do exactly the same in a year from now or whether we will have to adjust. I am not revealing any secrets here. We were with some of the big media organisations earlier in the day and asked exactly that question: “How do you see the Games in a year from now? Will you have exactly the same operation or not? Should we change some of the baseline assumptions in order to plan for these Games one year later according to what will be needed at that time?”
It is a combined effort from everyone to look at what will be needed, what we have to adjust and address. This work has started with Tokyo 2020 as well, because there are a number of things they may be able to look at slightly differently. Can we review some of the logistics spaces? Can we optimise some of these spaces? Where can we find different solutions in order to reduce the pressure? The one thing we have delivered as a message to everyone in our different conversations with stakeholders is: “Let’s make sure we all do the right thing in trying to be creative, innovative. We have time ahead of us to further help Tokyo. Although we have this incredible commitment from the government at the highest level, we still have to do this work to assist and make sure we do the right thing.” We are looking at the entire piece and seeing where we can gain efficiencies.Will you be paying some money towards those additional costs?
Christophe Dubi: This is really work in the making. There will be some additional costs for the Tokyo Organising Committee. There will be additional costs for the IOC and the Olympic family. And we are looking into those in great detail.Do you have a sense, even a broad estimate, of what the cost of the postponement to the IOC is? Then, is this something you can simply cover from cash reserves? Are there any grounds for an insurance claim or other financing vehicle to account for this sort of cashflow issue that we know so many different entities will be facing?
Christophe Dubi: It is really premature to get into this because of two things. Firstly, it is an entirely new ball game, and we have to look at every element. I have read some numbers, but these are really speculations, because I can guarantee the work is really ongoing, and it is tens of thousands of line items of a budget that need to be reviewed. So, it is really premature to get into that. What I said before is that we have this commitment to help and assist to find the right solution. Also, you have to remember that Tokyo 2020 was in a great financial position prior to the crisis hitting. They also had some contingencies, and that has to be factored in to everything that we need to do for the remainder of the organisation. So, it is many moving pieces, but one thing we can say is that the fantastic marketing campaign – the ticketing, the hospitality – is truly helpful because the revenues are incredibly high and that is something we can rely on.What is the sense of urgency or need that you feel among the IFs? And what options do they have? How does the IOC fit into the strategy of having a role to try to make things easier for the IFs’ financial planning?
Kit McConnell: Firstly, we are very conscious of the impact of the coronavirus across the world of sport, and sport is not operating in isolation of wider society. We know that the Federations have lost a number of events this season and the revenues, not only from this season, but potentially the next calendar year will be impacted as well. Similar to the work being done with the Organising Committee in Tokyo, we have heard that and had that discussion with the Federations already. We understand that they are also looking at it from their perspective. Now that we know the dates of the Games and are only three days after announcing them, they are looking at the impacts themselves in terms of calendar adjustments. Equally, I think a number of them were looking, as the IOC was, at what the overall impact on them as sports organisations are.
It is not only the IFs, it is also the National Federations, their event operators and everyone else. So again, it is too early for us to speculate in terms of what the situation will be coming out of it and what the IOC’s role with the Federations will be. We acknowledge the challenges that a lot of them they face, and the fact that they are assessing that themselves at the moment. We will continue to discuss that with them, to assess and see what role we can play with them in addressing that.What is the situation with venues and how has Tokyo 2020 been able to guarantee they will be available for the Games next year? And if not, are there any contingency plans in place?
Christophe Dubi: On the venues, there are three different situations. Firstly, there are venues that are fully dedicated to sport on a day-to-day basis. Secondly, there are fully temporary venues, and then thirdly there are other buildings, in particular convention centres, especially the Chiba situation where a convention centre is being transformed into venues for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
We can be very confident. At the same time, those negotiations have to take place regarding the three types of venues and especially the latter one – the convention centres – because they have a calendar of events and some events are already scheduled for 2021. So, obviously, the negotiations have already started on these. They are currently discussing how to reorganise some of the other shows that were planned for 2021. All in all, we are not yet into contingency planning. The great thing with sport now is that it is an industry that has evolved tremendously, and you can do miracles, including with temporary settings. We are by far not there now. All of the 41 venues were incredibly proud to have the Games because it is a game-changer for any building to have hosted the events. So, the likelihood is that those negotiations will go in the right direction. This is what we really hope for, because we had a fabulous master plan in place, so hopefully we can reconduct it.Can you confirm that the IOC Athletes’ Commission elections will be postponed until next year, and the members who are due to leave the Commission this year will keep their place on the Commission until the elections at the postponed Games?
Kit McConnell: The term of some Athletes’ Commission members was through to the timing of the Games with the next elections taking place at the time of the Games. So, this would lead you to think that the extension would be in place with the current Athletes’ Commission. However, since it is linked to IOC membership in a number of cases, we just need to go back and formalise that process and get that formally approved. So, no formal decisions on that at this stage, though the thinking would be that that would be the case. As soon as we confirm that decision, then we will communicate it.As things stand, there is no IOC Session until next June. Can we take it for granted that there will need to be an IOC Session, possibly a virtual one, this year or do you not think it is necessary?
IOC Spokesperson Mark Adams: We would be unable to give you an answer yet on that. The IOC Session is an open question, which we are still working on.On the Solidarity programme, it looks like those two programmes mentioned as being extended make up about 13 per cent of the overall budget based on 2018 figures for the overall Solidarity budget. Are you saying that, while you are confirming that 13 per cent – USD 13 million or so – the other 87 per cent, they are not going to get now?
James Macleod: The answer to your question is no. What we have confirmed is an extension of the programme beyond 2020. So, as you know, Olympic Solidarity works on a four-year plan. Currently, we are in a 2017-2020 plan, which has a budget of USD 509 million. It has a number of programmes, whether it is helping coaches, athletes, National Olympic Committee management, promotion of values, etc. So, what we have confirmed now is that the programmes that are linked to the Tokyo Games will be extended into 2021, therefore extended into a new plan.Is that with extra money or does it still come out of this USD 509 million?
James Macleod: We will be looking for extra money. Some of that extra money will actually be coming from a number of activities that have been postponed this year due to the impact of COVID-19. There are a number of plans and courses that have been postponed or cancelled, etc. So that is why we were able to confirm that quite quickly.How about the situation with AIBA, the International Boxing Association? The Federation is currently suspended as of these Games that were supposed to take place in July, but with their work towards reinstatement and reform, is there a possibility that the Federation could be reinstated in time for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games?
Kit McConnell: The timing of the suspension of the recognition of AIBA was linked with the timing of the Games. It was due to be reviewed following the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and that still remains in place, so with the calendar of the Olympic Games moved to 2021, the move for the review of the recognition status of AIBA will also move in that regard. So, the remainder of the qualification system will still be run through the Boxing Task Force that has been put in place under the chairmanship of Mr Morinari Watanabe. The Monitoring Group under Mr Nenad Lalovic will also remain in place.Obviously, the postponement has potential impacts at the NOC level regarding sponsorships and particularly sponsorships that were expiring at the end of 2020. Has the IOC provided any guidance to the NOCs regarding how to handle potential sponsorship extensions and if so, what has that guidance been?
Timo Lumme: We are actually just in the process of drawing up guidelines which will cover globally the principles that we are proposing to apply, but in general, what we will be coming up with is that NOCs will, in the main, be free to take the decision whether they want to extend a local partnership or partnerships that have been in place, in general.My question is about the additional sports and events for the Olympic Games Paris 2024. I would like to know if a final decision will be taken at the end of this year or after the Tokyo Olympic Games?
Kit McConnell: It is a good question, and one we have obviously discussed internally. We do not have an answer on it yet. I think it is one of those many things where we had a lot of timelines with the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 taking place this year, and now we need to assess that. The first focus was obviously confirming the dates of Tokyo 2020. This question regarding the event programme and the athlete quotas for Paris 2024 is one that we can look into now that we have clarity on the dates. We are working that through both internally and obviously with the Organising Committee in Paris, and also speaking to the Federations about the timing. You can imagine it came within a few days after setting the dates for Tokyo, but it is one that we hope to address shortly.Will you keep Sapporo as the venue for marathon and race walking, and if so, is the session schedule going to be the same as previously planned?
Kit McConnell: We have really got a fantastic base for the Games planning, that was developed around the Games taking place in Tokyo this summer, and it remains valid and in place for next summer. So, the competition schedule across the Games remains in place. Obviously, there may have to be some adaptations to that as we work through all the necessary adjustments, but the competition schedule remains in place, and that includes Sapporo.How will you solve the question of the Olympic Village? It is known that some apartments have already been sold and must be delivered in December later this year. Is it part of the negotiations, and will the Olympic Village be ready to welcome the participants?
Christophe Dubi: The discussions have started. In fact, it is a consortium that is building this Olympic Village, which was to come back to the developers at the end of this year. In 2021 and 2022 transformations were planned, with the addition of schools, living spaces, recreation areas for citizens, who should move into the apartments in early 2023. So, the discussions in progress are about economic conditions, but also about practical considerations. These discussions are ongoing, but obviously this is a fairly complex issue. The desire of everyone, and I also imagine on the part of the consortium, is to be able to make this Village available, because to have a community going into a place that will be mythical at that time since it is the home of the athletes at the time of the Games, obviously it is a very special dimension.The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 will take place six months apart. Is this a new challenge for the IOC?
Christophe Dubi: This is above all a new opportunity, especially with the possibility of actually having two Olympic Games editions in the space of six months, which is without precedent. Before 1994, we were in a configuration with two Olympic Games per year, but over two decades have passed, and it is the first time that we again have the possibility of hosting Games that are close to each other. Discussions are underway, in particular with the Beijing Games organisers and all the partners involved, to take advantage of this opportunity to generate interest in the Olympic Games. It will undoubtedly be absolutely wonderful: for Tokyo, the expectations are huge, and a few months later we will have a new peak of activity with Beijing 2022. It is an opportunity to do something extraordinary and to take advantage of the time we have left for the two events to work in this direction.Are measures being put in place should something similar to the coronavirus crisis happen again next year? As the World Health Organization cannot rule out a fresh outbreak in the winter, would that leave no option other than to cancel the Games?
Christophe Dubi: We have an All-Partners Task Force that is made up of Tokyo 2020, the IOC, but we also have, and this is very important, in this Task Force representatives of the World Health Organization, government of Japan and Tokyo Municipal Government helping us to keep a constant appraisal of the situation and how it evolves. And this group met a lot in the past and will continue to meet, to keep the pulse of the way the situation is evolving, how all the measures that are being taken in various countries are effective, and hopefully we can see the flattening of the curve in Europe and in other continents to follow what has been done obviously in Asia.
So, this is something that would continue. This work is very important because it will give us all the indications that are needed for any actions in the future. Health first, and this is something that we demonstrate through this activity with what we call the APTF, for All-Partners Task Force.Is there a possibility that certain sports are unable to take place next summer or will it definitely be a full Olympic Games?
Kit McConnell: Looking at all sports, all events taking place in Tokyo next year, one of the real benefits about going to the Summer Games next year is that it gives us a maximum amount of preparation time possible. We know that the athletes themselves right now are really challenged in their ability to train and prepare, so putting the Games in summer next year really maximises the opportunity for the athletes regardless of where they are coming from, regardless of where they are in the various phases of the COVID-19 outbreak. It provides the best possible opportunity for them to prepare on the field of play for Tokyo next year.
From the sports perspective, we are going forward with all sports, all events, as per the planning for this year.There are many athletes who would be great for promoting the Games, who were planning their retirement after Tokyo 2020. Is the IOC in touch with them and their respective International Federations to encourage them to train for one more year and be in Tokyo in 2021?
Kit McConnell: We are in touch with a number of athletes and obviously in constant dialogue with the IFs and the athlete community at large. For example, we have spoken with the IFs multiple times over the last couple of weeks. We have been in constant touch with our Athletes’ Commission and hosted two calls with the global athlete community. They really endorsed both the decision and the speed at which the decision was taken.
There are athletes at different stages of their careers and there are athletes to whom this gives opportunities. The main thing is now they have the certainty about when the Games are, and it also maximises their ability to prepare on the field of play next year.
Are there some challenges in terms of ages and stages of career? Yes, for some athletes there are, and I think that is the fact of whatever timing the Games may have. It comes at different times in athletes’ careers. For others, it may give opportunities if they are recovering from injuries, if they have not had the chance to prepare properly this year because of the impact of the virus on their country and their own sports.Can you explain the logistics of how the IOC is planning this postponement? Is everyone in Lausanne working from their homes and is anyone on this Task Force on the ground in Tokyo, and what kind of challenges is this presenting?
Christophe Dubi: We are all working from home, and as I said in one of the earlier responses, it is proving fairly effective. We have a good technological environment in place. We have all taken our new marks when it comes to those meetings, either by teleconference or video conference. There is a lot of discipline. The meetings stick to time. It means that the preparation is very rigorous as well, and it works the same way with Tokyo. So, it means very early starts for some of us, so we can maximise the time where we are in business hours together.
We do not have any more people from the IOC management in Tokyo. We have, however, some staff members from Olympic Broadcasting Services who were working on the installation of the International Broadcasting Centre. A decision will have to be made whether they come back or stay longer, but all the others that were on the ground for planning purposes are back in Lausanne or in Europe.
We have adapted to this new virtual environment. Do we miss being with people? Obviously, but we are doing the right thing, and we are contributing to the fight against COVID-19 and happily doing so.