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.—AFP