The head of the International Olympic Committee is not winning a gold medal in diplomacy.
IOC President Thomas Bach referred to the Japanese people as “Chinese,” while making his first public comments in Tokyo ahead of the summer games Tuesday morning.
Bach misidentified his hosts — and quickly corrected himself — while giving a pep talk at the headquarters of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee.
“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.
The slip-up was not included in the English to Japanese interpretations, but was quickly reported by Japanese media.
Backlash from the gaffe was swift on social media in Japan. The controversy comes as organizers have been criticized for going ahead with the games, even as polls show a majority of Japanese people think the event should be postponed again or canceled due to surging COVID-19 cases.
Organizers banned all spectators from events in Tokyo last week, after a state of emergency was declared surging COVID-19 cases there.
Bach arrived in Japan last week, spending his first three days in the country in isolation.
He has limited mobility during his first 14 days in Tokyo under quarantine and social distancing protocols that apply to almost all Olympic guests.
The Tokyo Olympics begin on July 23.
With AP wires