TOKYO: International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach referred to his Japanese hosts as Chinese when he appeared in public on Tuesday for the first time since arriving in Tokyo last week.
Giving a pep talk at the headquarters of the Tokyo Olympics organising committee, Bach’s opening remarks were, “You have managed to make Tokyo the best-ever prepared city for the Olympic Games. This is even more remarkable under the difficult circumstances we all have to face.”
Bach tripped over his words, referring to the Chinese people rather than Japanese people.
“Our common target is safe and secure games for everybody; for the athletes, for all the delegations, and most importantly also for the Chinese people — Japanese people,” Bach said, catching his mistake quickly.
Bach’s comments in the briefing were interpreted from English to Japanese, but the slip was not included in the interpretations. Still, the Japanese media quickly reported it and there was backlash on social media.
He ended his speech with a Japanese phrase: “Gambari mashou”, which translates as “Let’s do our best”.
The pandemic-postponed Olympics open in 10 days. Bach spent his first three days in isolation at the IOC’s five-star hotel in central Tokyo, and his movements are limited like almost everyone entering for the Olympics for the first 14 days.
Organisers and the IOC decided last week to ban fans from all but a handful of outlying venues, a move that came after the Japanese government instituted a state of emergency in Tokyo forced by rising coronavirus cases. The state of emergency went into force on Monday and runs through August 22.
The state of emergency will be in effect throughout the entire duration of the Olympics, which open on July 23 and close on August 8. Its main impact is to push bars and restaurants to close early and stop selling alcohol, a move aimed at cutting down circulation on crowded trains.
Bach’s visit on Tuesday coincided with the official opening of the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay. Organisers did not offer an immediate count of how many athletes were on hand.
Bach is scheduled to visit Hiroshima on Friday in an effort to tie the Olympics to the city’s effort to promote world peace. IOC vice-president John Coates is to visit Nagasaki the same day.
Japan’s Kyodo news has reported that a group in Hiroshima is opposing Bach’s visit.
Organisers have been criticized for pressing ahead with the Olympics during the pandemic amid polls that show depending on how the question is phrased that 50%-80% of the public oppose the Olympics taking place.
The Olympics will involve 11,000 athletes entering Japan along with tens of thousands of others including officials, judges, media, and broadcasters. Also on Tuesday, police in Tokyo said a group of four US and British men working for a power company contracted to the Olympics were arrested on suspicion of using cocaine.
Aggreko Events Services Japan confirmed it employed the suspects and apologized for the trouble. NHK public television reported the four suspects entered Japan from February to May and were staying in Tokyo.
New virus cases in Tokyo were reported at 830, up from 593 one week ago. It is the 24th straight day that cases were higher than seven days previous. The office of the Japanese prime minister said on Tuesday that 18.5% of Japanese are fully vaccinated.