In a keynote address to the 138th Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) invoked the new Olympic motto as a strategy to defeat the COVID-19 virus.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The Olympic Games bring nations of the world together in competition as athlete strive to fulfil the Olympic motto of ‘higher, faster, stronger – together’. The motto applies equally to our struggle against the defining challenge of our time: we must be faster in distributing vaccines all over the world; we must aim higher in vaccinating 70 per cent of all the population of all countries by the middle of next year; we must be stronger in removing every barrier that stands in our way to expedite production; and we must do it all together, in solidarity.”

The Director General, who joined the IOC Members in Tokyo two days before the start of the Olympic Games, noted the unique nature of Tokyo 2020. WHO has assisted Games preparations by providing technical advice to the IOC and Japan on ways to protect public health.

After recalling other Games held in “the shadow of war”, economic disruption and other major challenges, he added: “But never before have they been organised in the shadow of a pandemic. And although COVID-19 might have postponed the Games, it did not defeat them.”

The global health leader expressed confidence in the measures in place: “There is no zero risk in life; there is only more risk, or less risk. And you have done your best.”

Dr Tedros explained: “The mark of success in the coming fortnight is not zero cases, and I know that some cases have already been detected. The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible, and onward transmission is interrupted. That is the mark of success for every country.”

The Director General ended his remarks by praising the Olympic Games as a “celebration of hope” amid the lingering impacts of the global pandemic: “The Games bring the nations of the world together in celebration: a celebration of sport; of health; of excellence, friendship and respect. But ultimately, they are a celebration of something even more important – of something that our world needs now, more than ever: a celebration of hope. I repeat: the world needs now more than ever a celebration of hope. The celebrations may be more muted this year, but the message of hope is all the more important.”

He went on: “May these Games be the moment that unites the world, and ignites the solidarity and determination we need to end the pandemic together, by vaccinating 70 per cent of the population of every country by the middle of next year. May the message of hope resound from Tokyo around the world in every nation, every village, and every heart.”

Raising the Olympic torch, Dr Tedros concluded: “May the Olympic torch be a symbol of hope that traverses the planet. And may the rays of hope from this land of the rising sun illuminate a new dawn that is healthier, safer and fairer.”