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Senior IOC official says crowds at Olympic events are 'largely irrelevant'

Public spectators are banned from all events at Tokyo 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Canadian International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound says that shouldn't affect the competitions and ceremonies.

Canadian says most people will experience the Games on their screens

Canadian International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound, seen above in 2016, says the absence of public spectators for Friday's opening ceremony is "largely irrelevant." (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

A senior Canadian member of the International Olympic Committee says the lack of public spectators at the Tokyo Olympics won't hurt the Games, saying the absence of crowds is "largely irrelevant."

Pandemic-related public health rules mean no members of the public can watch Olympic events live, but Dick Pound told CBC News that shouldn't affect the competitions and ceremonies.

"The crowd is largely irrelevant," Pound said, referring to Friday's opening ceremony during an interview Thursday with the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault.

"And every once in a while you give [the crowd] some lights to wave around."

While the 68,000-seat Tokyo Olympic Stadium will be devoid of public spectators for the opening ceremony, an estimated 10,000 government and IOC officials are expected to be in attendance.

WATCH | Pound discusses fans, restrictions at Tokyo Games: 

Dick Pound on impact of restrictions on Tokyo Olympics


8 days ago
Adrienne Arsenault speaks to International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound about banning spectators and his worries about the public’s opinion of the Games. 4:36

"If you have the president and secretary of seven international sports federations, I don't think the world is going to end. I mean, someone may try to make a mountain out of that molehill," Pound said.

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Earlier, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) announced that just 30 to 40 athletes, out of a contingent of 370 Canadian athletes, would participate in the opening ceremony due to various health and safety protocols.

Eric Myles, COC chief sport officer, said that because athletes are required to arrive in the Olympic Village five days before they compete, many won't arrive in time for Friday's ceremony. Others are choosing to focus solely on their upcoming competition.

Pound said the ceremony is a made-for-TV event, and the quality of the ceremony likely won't be diminished by the absence of live spectators. 

Meanwhile, events such as softball and soccer have already begun in empty stadiums. 

As well, most of the events will be watched around the world on screens anyway, Pound said.

"Ninety-nine point five per cent of the people around the world, maybe more, will experience Tokyo through television or some other electronic platform.

"They don't care whether there are spectators in the crowd or not. The focus will be on the action. And you can create crowd noise, we've seen it in North America. You can fake it."

However, Pound agreed the presence of athletes' family and friends could not be replicated. "You can't fake the moms and dads, that's for sure. And that's disappointing," he said.

'If [outbreak] happens, it happens'

Pound also said he wasn't overly worried about a potential COVID-19 outbreak. So far, a total of 91 people accredited for the Tokyo Games have tested positive since the beginning of July.

And the possibility remains that an entire team or key athletes could be knocked out of an event following a positive test.

"If that happens, it happens ... that's a health issue that it's too bad for that particular country, but the health and safety of everybody else is even more important," he said.

Instead, Pound said he was more concerned about public opinion on Tokyo 2020 being swayed by social media.

"If people see that [social-media users] just totally uninformed then they can become irrelevant and that's really what you hope."

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