By Jack Tarrant and Hideto Sakai
TOKYO (Reuters) - Six months from the start of the rearranged Olympics, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto is cautiously hopeful that successful rollouts of COVID-19 vaccines can help lead to the safe and successful staging of the world's largest sporting event.
Last year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government made the unprecedented decision to postpone the Games for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With cases still surging in Japan and across the globe, Tokyo organisers are determined there will be no further delay to the Games.
Muto stressed in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that vaccines would help the staging of the Olympics although they are not a panacea.
"Once vaccinations are conducted widely in the U.S. and Europe, I think there is no doubt that it will have a positive effect (on the Games)," said Muto in the Tokyo 2020 offices overlooking the newly-built Athletes’ Village.
"However, it doesn’t solve everything."
"We are hopeful about the vaccines, but at the same time, I think it is inappropriate to be totally dependent on it," he added.
DWINDLING PUBLIC SUPPORT
A key feature of Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Games was the huge wave of public support behind the venture but this has evaporated amid the pandemic.
A recent Kyodo News poll found that 80% of Japanese surveyed want the Games to be either cancelled or postponed again.
Muto acknowledged this was a concern, but was hopeful a combination of vaccines and other coronavirus countermeasures would alleviate public worries.
"As vaccinations are conducted to some extent, I expect public opinion will get generally relieved. And I think there is a possibility that it makes it easier to hold the Games," he said.
"It is natural that people would be very worried about it. But we hope the situation will definitely be improved and under such a situation, I think public opinion will be improved as well."
Last year, the postponement decision was taken days before the start of the torch relay, which has led to speculation that any pronouncement on the Games would come before the rearranged torch relay begins on March 25.
In an interview with Japan's Nishi Nippon newspaper on Thursday, Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said a decision on whether the Games would go ahead this year would come before the torch relay starts.
However, Muto stressed to Reuters that this was not the case and no timeframe had been discussed.
"Same as cancellation, the postponement hasn’t been (discussed)," he said.
"There is no connection between the torch relay and such decisions."
The Reuters interview with Muto, which was embargoed, took place before The Times article suggesting Japanese government had made decision to postpone Olympics [L1N2JW34O].
The IOC has consistently stressed that athlete safety is its most important goal and Tokyo 2020 organisers have come up with a raft of measures to achieve this, such as social distancing in the Athletes’ Village and a stringent testing regimen.
Athletes, however, will not have to undertake a two-week quarantine when arriving in Japan.
Tennis players currently in Melbourne for the Australian Open have had to quarantine for a fortnight, leading to a variety of issues.
Muto is keen to avoid something similar when 15,000 international athletes descend on Tokyo.
"It is a reasonable idea to implement 14-day quarantines. We considered that," he said.
"However, it is very inappropriate to ask athletes to be in a situation in which they cannot practise for two weeks before their matches. This is the conclusion."
Unlike last year, when fireworks illuminated Tokyo Bay amid much fanfare and anticipation six months out from the Games, there are no events planned for Saturday, as organisers quietly prepare for an Olympics like never before.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant and Hideto Sakai; writing by Jack Tarrant; editing by Toby Davis)