A year to go, rearranged Tokyo Games still shrouded in uncertainty

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Tokyo 2020 organisers will host celebrations marking the one-year countdown to the Olympics on Thursday but with the postponed Games still shrouded in uncertainty they are sure to be more muted than the first attempt 12 months ago.

On July 24 last year, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach presided over a glitzy ceremony in the Japanese capital and declared Tokyo the best-prepared host city he had ever seen.

Even six months ago, when fireworks exploded over a giant, luminous set of Olympic rings in Tokyo Bay, organisers were still bullish that their huge financial investment would deliver an unforgettable Games.

Just two months later, however, plans that had been almost a decade in the making were shredded as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the IOC and Japanese government to take the unprecedented decision to postpone the Olympics for a year.

Since the postponement in late March, all 42 venues for the Games have been secured and the competition schedule announced, with the opening ceremony set to take place at the 156.9 billion yen ($1.44 billion) National Stadium on July 23.

Beyond that, though, questions remain about almost every aspect of hosting what Bach calls the “most complex event on this planet”.

The head of the IOC’s Coordination Commission John Coates has said rearranging the Games meant focusing on the “must haves” in a simplified event.

In response, Tokyo 2020 Chief Executive Toshiro Muto said over 200 simplification measures were under consideration.


What has yet to be decided is how much rearranging the Games is going to cost the Japanese taxpayer.

The IOC have said their share of the costs will be some $800 million but organisers have repeatedly refused to put a number on the final bill for Japanese stakeholders.

The Games were already set to cost over 1.35 trillion yen before the postponement and increased expenditure might further alienate a public already turning their backs on an Olympics they once embraced enthusiastically.

A recent poll conducted by Kyodo News found that fewer than one in four favoured holding the Games as scheduled next year.

A third believed the Olympics should be postponed again — which Bach has warned is not an option — with another third wanting the Games cancelled outright.

In addition to costs, three major issues dominate any conversation on the rearranged Games — athlete safety, spectators and sponsorship.

Organisers have said all efforts will be made to ensure the 11,000 athletes will be able to travel safely to Tokyo and compete in world class surroundings.

As expert after expert has pointed out, however, it is difficult to see how this can be accomplished without the development and global distribution of an effective COVID-19 vaccine.

The same is true of the desire to have thousands of spectators in the stadiums to cheer on those athletes.

Loss of ticket revenue would be a major blow to the organising committee and that would be compounded if they cannot keep on board the record-breaking number of Games sponsors.

A poll conducted by Japanese public broadcaster NHK last month found two-thirds of Tokyo 2020’s corporate sponsors were undecided on whether to continue their support.

The challenges facing Olympics organisers are unprecedented but under questioning from athletes, fans and sponsors, they know they need to find some answers soon.