International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach referred to Japanese citizens as “Chinese” Tuesday morning in his first public comments since arriving in Tokyo and completing quarantine.
The news conference gaffe drew criticism, with some people saying online they feel it’s indicative of a lack of respect for the locals being put at risk by the games.
Bach’s speech at the headquarters of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee was meant to assuage concerns that the Olympics would be a superspreader event as delta variant Covid-19 cases go up around the world.
“Our common target is safe and secure games,” Bach said at the start of the meeting.
He made the mistake as he emphasized the security and preparedness of the city.
“For everybody — for the athletes, for all the delegations and most importantly also for the Chinese people — Japanese people,” he said.
Though interpreters at the event didn’t translate the error from English to Japanese with the rest of the speech, Japanese publications reported the incident.
Last week, the IOC announced it would ban fans at most of the venues, but tens of thousands are still making their way to Tokyo, including athletes, judges, media and other personnel. As Covid-19 cases rise, the Japanese government instituted a state of emergency in Tokyo, which will be in effect until Aug. 22.
A May poll of the Japanese public found that up to 83 percent of the population wants the Olympics to either be postponed or canceled entirely.
Small groups of activists in Tokyo gathered to protest Bach outside his hotel last week, and Japanese media reported that similar opposition is being planned for his upcoming visit to Hiroshima.
The IOC and Bach did not respond to a request for comment.