The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made his first public appearance since arriving in Tokyo ahead of the Olympics, but had to quickly correct himself after muddling his words.
Thomas Bach referred to the “Chinese people” rather than “Japanese people” during his remarks, immediately correcting himself.
He arrived in Tokyo last week spending his first three days in isolation at the International Olympic Committee”s five-star hotel in central Tokyo.
The games start in just 10 days, with organisers deciding there will be no spectators allowed in almost all venues, with Tokyo under a fourth state of emergency for the duration.
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, speaking at the headquarters of the organising committee on Tuesday, said: “You have managed to make Tokyo the best-ever prepared city for the Olympic Games.”
Addressing organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto and CEO Toshiro Muto he added: ”This is even more remarkable under the difficult circumstances we all have to face.”
“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.
Bach ended his speech with a Japanese phrase: “Gambari mashou,” which translates as “Let’s do our best.”
Bach’s visit on Tuesday coincided with the official opening of the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay.
He 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.
A small group of protesters gathered on Saturday outside Bach’s hotel carrying placards that said he was unwelcome.
Organisers have been criticised for pressing ahead with the Olympics during the coronavirus pandemic amid polls that show – depending on how the question is phrased – that 50 to 80 percent of the public oppose the Olympics taking place.
New virus cases in Tokyo were reported at 830, up from 593 one week ago. It is the 24th straight day that cases were higher than seven days previous.
The office of the Japanese prime minister said Tuesday that 18.5 percent of Japanese are fully vaccinated.