January 25, 2021

TOKYO (Reuters) – The head of Japan’s national Olympic committee on Friday dismissed media reports that the Japanese government has privately concluded it will have to cancel the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and said preparations were under way for the Games to go ahead as planned.

“We are planning how to hold a safe and secure Games in great detail, working closely with the International Olympic Committee and the World Health Organisation,” Japan Olympic Committee chairman Yasuhiro Yamashita said in an interview with Reuters.

Britain’s Times reported on Friday that Tokyo was looking to get out of hosting the Games, drawing sharp criticism and flat denials from Japan’s government and Olympics organisers.

“It’s wrong and it’s ridiculous even having to comment on this,” Yamashita said of the reports, before asking not to be asked any “worthless” questions.

Last year, the government had been pinning its hopes on a coronavirus vaccine to help make the Olympics safer, but more recently Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said vaccinations were not a prerequisite for athletes to participate in the Games.

Yamashita, a gold medallist in judo at the 1984 Olympics, shied away from commenting on how the JOC planned to communicate with Japanese athletes about inoculations.

“It’s a decision for the government to make. It’s not for the JOC to decide,” he said, adding that he couldn’t give a definitive timeline given that the vaccines were not being distributed yet.

Yamashita himself knows what it feels like to miss out on the Olympics, as he could not participate as an athlete in the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics.

“I realised that I might have been the luckiest one of the athletes who missed out on the Moscow Olympics,” he said, as he went on to win gold in Los Angeles four years later.

“There must be people who are still hurt from having their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity taken from them,” he said, explaining the reasoning behind his push to include such former athletes in the torch relay for Tokyo 2020.

“I just felt it was my responsibility as a human being to make sure that they could take part in this Olympics, in some way or form,” he added.

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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