Great Britain’s chef de mission for the Olympics has boldly declared he is “supremely confident” they will take place this summer – as Tokyo was plunged into an expanded state of emergency.
Mark England says the British Olympic Association is “full steam ahead” in its planning for the rescheduled Games as it announced a four-strong shooting team led by world champions Seonaid McIntosh and Matt Coward-Holley.
"The Games are going to happen," England told Telegraph Sport. "I'm supremely confident in what we're hearing from the organising committee, what we're hearing from the Japanese government, what we're hearing from the International Olympic Committee, and - of equal importance - what we're hearing from the international federations who effectively run the competitions. So, with seven months to go, we're full steam ahead in putting everything in place to support the team that gets selected to go there.
"Our raison d'etre is to take athletes to the Olympics Games and we are confident in our own protocols, we are confident in the environment that we will be entering and we fully intend to take a full complement of British athletes to the Games this summer. There is no backing down of that at all."
England says he does not expect athletes to have to quarantine in Japan, and they would instead have Covid-19 tests prior to departure and on arrival in Tokyo. He also dismissed any suggestions that British athletes may be given priority access to vaccines to ensure they are able to compete.
"We will absolutely take our turn," he said, when asked about vaccines. "We are entirely united and supportive around a narrative that those elderly, vulnerable and frontline workers absolutely should be at the front of the queue.
"We've not raised a discussion with our athletes about vaccines, whether they want it or want to fast-track it. We are 100 per cent behind alleviating the acute stress and pressure that many, many people in this country are facing and we'll do our bit to support those that need it first getting it."
England spoke as Japan expanded a state of emergency in the Tokyo area to seven more prefectures amid a steady rise in Covid-19 cases. The governors of Osaka, Kyoto and other hard-hit prefectures asked the Japanese government to announce the emergency, which gave local authorities the legal basis to curb movement and business. It will cover 55 per cent of Japan’s 126 million citizens and is set to last until February 7.
Sir Matthew Pinsent this week called for this year’s Olympics and Paralympics to be scrapped – with Tokyo offered the 2024 Games instead – after it emerged more than four-fifths of people in Japan now want them cancelled or postponed, or believe they will be.
Four-time gold medallist Pinsent, one of Britain’s greatest Olympians, said the Paris and Los Angeles Games should be moved to 2028 and 2032, respectively, if the Japanese capital was willing to delay its own hosting by another three years.
Pinsent was responding to two polls conducted in recent days by the Japanese news agency Kyodo and TBS – the Tokyo Broadcasting System – which showed a substantial increase in opposition to the Olympics from similar surveys last month. Those surveys preceded the surge of coronavirus cases that last week prompted the Japanese government last week to call a state of emergency.