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Budget battles and boxing blues: the rocky path to Tokyo 2020

The mascots are big news in Japan
The mascots are big news in Japan AFP/File
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Tokyo (AFP)

From tears of joy when Tokyo was selected to a plagiarism scandal, budget battles and doubt over the boxing competition, the path towards the 2020 Olympics has not always been smooth.

With 500 days to go, organisers stress the Games are back on track and construction on schedule.

Here are some key moments in Tokyo's rocky Olympic road.

- Tears of joy -

TV news presenters broke down in tears and thousands of people erupted in screams of delight when the IOC awarded the games to Tokyo in September 2013.

With emotions running high, many Japanese turned their thoughts to the thousands of victims of a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, with the Olympics eyed as a golden opportunity to rebuild.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed Tokyo would be a "safe pair of hands", with a reputation for efficiency and competence.

- Stadium shock -

Unfortunately, that reputation for efficiency quickly went out of the window when Abe was forced to tear up blueprints for the proposed national stadium as costs ballooned out of control.

"I have decided we must go back to the drawing board," a red-faced Abe said in July 2015, amid public anger over its $2-billion price tag -- which would have made it the world's most expensive stadium.

The decision also affected the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which was due to host the final in the stadium. That match will now be played in Yokohama, south of Tokyo.

- Logo larceny -

More embarrassment followed in September 2015 as organisers had to ditch the logo for the Games amid accusations of plagiarism and questions about the designer's credibility.

Belgian designer Olivier Debie said the original design was stolen from his logo for a theatre in Liege, western Belgium, and vowed to take the issue to court.

As the scandal mounted, officials were forced to withdraw the logo, saying it "no longer has public support".

- Venue relief -

After the setbacks came a welcome piece of positive news in November 2017 as Tokyo unveiled its first new permanent venue.

The Musashino Forest Sport Plaza, which will host badminton and modern pentathlon fencing, was the first of eight new permanent venues to be completed.

The 10,000-seat venue cost an estimated $300 million and will also host wheelchair basketball at the 2020 Paralympics.

It also contains a swimming pool, gym and fitness studios available for use by the general public and is part-powered by solar energy.

- Mascot madness -

In the wake of the logo disaster, there was a palpable sense of relief after the smooth rollout of two futuristic mascots for the Olympics and Paralympics -- chosen this time by schoolchildren across the country.

Olympic mascot "Miraitowa" -- combining the Japanese words for future and eternity -- is a blue-checked, doe-eyed character with pointy ears and useful "special powers" that enable it "to move anywhere instantaneously".

Its Paralympic counterpart sports pink checks derived from Japan's famous cherry blossoms and is "usually calm, however, it gets very powerful when needed".

It is called "Someity" -- borrowing from the word for a variety of Japan's iconic cherry trees and the English expression "so mighty".

- Boxing blues -

The fate of boxing, one of the oldest and most traditional Olympic sports, was thrown into doubt in November when the IOC ordered preparations frozen amid concerns over the governance of the governing body AIBA.

The IOC said it would make "all efforts" to ensure there could be an Olympic boxing competition at Tokyo but admitted the freeze was unprecedented and that qualification bouts would not be taking place.

The decision now comes down to a probe into AIBA by audit firm Deloitte that will be handed over to the IOC.

- French charges -

French investigating magistrates in January charged the head of Japan's Olympic Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, as they looked into two payments totalling $2.3 million made before and after the Japanese capital was chosen.

Takeda said he was "never involved" in any decision-making process over the payment and stressed he had already protested his innocence during questioning in December in Paris.

Tokyo 2020 says it has "no means of knowing the bid committee's activities", which occurred before the organising committee was set up.

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