GENEVA — The International Olympic Committee downplayed concerns over Japanese public opinion calling for this summer's Tokyo Games to be canceled, doing so Wednesday during a virtual news conference that was then interrupted by an activist protesting the Olympics.
The conference followed a monthly meeting of the IOC executive board held amid a state of emergency in Tokyo to curb surging COVID-19 cases. Polling in Japan also persistently suggests people want the Olympics — scheduled to open July 23 and close Aug. 8 — to be called off, having already been postponed by one year.
"We listen but won't be guided by public opinion," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, adding "everything is telling us ... that the games can go ahead and will go ahead."
Adams stood in for his boss, IOC president Thomas Bach, whose planned visit to Japan next week was called off Monday after states of emergency in Tokyo and other regions were extended through May.
The final question of the news conference, held by video call, was offered to a reporter from Yahoo Sports. Instead, an activist appeared on the screen holding up a black-and-white banner opposing the Tokyo Olympics.
"No Olympics anywhere, No Olympics anywhere," he said, before using a profanity and adding "No Olympics in L.A., No Olympics in Tokyo," before the line was cut. The 2028 Olympics will be held in Los Angeles.
Adams made light of the interruption, noting if Bach had been present it "probably would have made that stunt a little bit more interesting."
The NOlympics LA group later claimed on its Twitter account it had "crashed the IOC's press conference."
Olympic Games typically dip in popularity in the host nation before momentum picks up when the games open and the sports begin. Adams said the Tokyo Olympics would be a "historic moment" for the world and make the Japanese people proud.
"I am very confident that we will see public opinion hugely in favor of the games," Adams said, adding that Japanese people strongly approved of the candidacy for Tokyo, which won a bidding contest in 2013 against Madrid and Istanbul.
Still, opposition has seemed to harden against an Olympics that has cost at least $15 billion of mostly taxpayers' money. Adams said there are private polling numbers known to the IOC and organizers in Tokyo, though no details were given Wednesday.
Amid the uncertainty and disrupted plans for the ongoing four-month torch relay across Japan, test events have continued to be held in Tokyo. Olympic qualifying events have also been held worldwide.
Close to 7,800 athletes have qualified for the games — 70% of the total quota — with a further 10% set to be earned by June 29, Adams said. About 20% of entries are being awarded according to world rankings in some of the 33 sports.
A "large and growing number" of participants will be vaccinated against COVID-19 before arriving at the athlete village in Tokyo, Adams said.
The IOC has struck deals to buy Chinese vaccines and receive donations of doses from Pfizer to distribute to Olympic team delegations worldwide.