International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons remains confident the postponed Tokyo Games can be realized this summer in a safe environment for everyone involved, despite the long shadow cast by the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are focusing on the games going ahead," Parsons said Monday in an online interview with Kyodo News, prior to marking 200 days until the opening of the world's biggest event for athletes with disabilities.
"There are many different aspects that make me confident about it."
A major British daily set off a storm earlier this year by reporting that the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games were likely to be canceled, prompting stakeholders including the International Olympic Committee, the IPC, and Tokyo organizing committee to quickly issue denials.
With the story fueling speculation, including the possibility of some major countries withholding their athletes from the games, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee released an official letter in late January, saying it would help its athletes achieve their goals of competing with as little distraction as possible.
Parsons listed several reasons for his confidence about safely staging the games in Japan, including the development of coronavirus vaccines, professional sports events successfully taking place around the world under safety restrictions, and an additional year of learning how to cope with the deadly virus.
"I don't see the vaccination as the silver bullet, but it's of course the super important element to protect the population around the world," he said.
"Things are happening in the summer...so we hope (the vaccine) will start to have desirable effects, (and) the population in Japan and around the world will be protected," Parsons said.
Japan plans to start coronavirus vaccinations by late February with first priority given to medical workers.
The government is set to receive a combined total of 310 million doses from U.S. pharmaceutical firms Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., as well as Britain's AstraZeneca Plc -- enough to cover 157 million people.
"We know more about the virus compared to March last year, when we needed to make the decision to postpone. So we know more about how the virus behaves," Parsons said.
"As we have seen since the postponement, the health and safety of everyone is the number one priority here," he said, adding parties concerned are much more knowledgeable on how to organize safe sport events during the pandemic as well.
"We had the UEFA Champions League, we had the Japanese football league, the Japanese baseball league. We'll have (the NFL) Super Bowl now in a matter of days. So I think we are learning how to deliver sports under the current circumstance," Parsons said.
In deciding whether or not to admit spectators to competition venues, or limit their numbers, the IPC will follow the decision of the Japanese government, according to Parsons.
"It will be the decision of the Japanese government. If they decide to go ahead with less spectators, with a (certain) percentage of the spectators, with no spectators, (or) only Japanese spectators, we have to respect the decision that is going to be made by the Japanese authorities," he said.
"We understand Japanese authorities will make the decision based on what is best for everyone involved around the games," said Parsons, adding he is also encouraged by safety measures implemented by the Japanese government, including the ongoing state of emergency.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared the state of emergency in January covering Tokyo and other parts of the country in response to a recent surge of the virus, and extended it Tuesday by another month through March 7, except for Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo.
Parsons said it was necessary "to guarantee safety of everyone involved" in determining the conditions for spectators at competition venues.
Meanwhile, he does not expect to see a reduced number of nations participating in the Paralympics, which are scheduled to take place from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5, following the one-year postponement due to the pandemic. The IPC initially predicted around 170 countries and regions would take part in the Summer Games.
"We didn't change our target, but it's not something that we'll discuss in target number of nations," he said. "That's how we can offer safe games, rather than the biggest (games) ever," Parsons said.