Olympics-Coe says Tokyo organisers delivered on COVID-19 protocols

A spectator raises a paper sign reading 'It is impossible to hold the Olympics, face up to reality' along the race route during the half-marathon as part of Hokkaido-Sapporo Marathon Festival 2021, a testing event for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics marathon race, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan May 5, 2021, in this photo released by Kyodo. Kyodo/via REUTERS

SAPPORO, Japan (Reuters) - World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe on Wednesday gave Tokyo Olympic organisers high marks for a marathon test event they staged in Sapporo, saying they were able to deliver both on the operation of the race and on their COVID-19 countermeasures.

The Sapporo Challenge Half Marathon 2021 was held on Wednesday as a dress rehearsal for the marquee Olympic event with less than three months before the Summer Games begin.

Six international athletes participated in the event in the northern city and had to go through stringent testing protocols before and after entering Japan.

"The organising committee here not only demonstrated the ability to stage an event on the field of play, it also demonstrated the ability to deliver across other complexities including, of course, the COVID-19 protocols," Coe told a news conference.

All participants, including staff and media, had to log their temperature and answer a health questionnaire daily in the week leading up to the event, either through a mobile app or on paper.

Organisers urged spectators not to come and watch the race, with event staff holding signs reading: "To prevent infection, please refrain from watching."

Nevertheless, a handful of observers turned out for a glimpse of the action.

Staff wore masks and sometimes face shields and plastic gloves.

Japan is battling a resurgence in coronavirus infections, and organisers are wrestling with how to hold the world's biggest multi-sporting event safely with about 15,000 athletes expected to participate.

They have already decided not to let in international spectators, and have said they would decide by June how many local spectators they would allow into venues, if any.

"Everybody of course, the athletes particularly, will hope for spectators but I think they recognise that if that's not possible, then the Games will still take place and the competition will still be extremely good," Coe said.

"And of course the athletes are now used to competing in stadia where there aren't any crowds."

Coe, who was the chief organiser of the 2012 London Games, said it was important that the Olympics were delivered successfully and safely.

"I know that each and every international sports federation are absolutely committed to adhering to the protocols and the processes with rigour," the Briton added.

"Not just to protect themselves but acutely conscious that we have a responsibility in our behaviour to protect local communities as well."

The Olympic marathon and race walk events are scheduled to be held from Aug. 5 to 8 in Sapporo.

They were originally scheduled to be held in Tokyo but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided in October 2019 to move the events to Sapporo to avoid the worst of Tokyo's summer heat.

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher, editing by Christian Radnedge)

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