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Simpler. Cheaper. Safer? Tokyo 2020's unanswered questions

The Olympic Rings are displayed in Tokyo near a seaside park. Many questions remain unanswered with a year to go till the delayed Games
The Olympic Rings are displayed in Tokyo near a seaside park. Many questions remain unanswered with a year to go till the delayed Games Philip FONG AFP
4 min
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Tokyo (AFP)

The year-long postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics due to coronavirus has presented organisers with unprecedented challenges and questions over costs, sponsorship and safety.

With one year to go, many of these questions remain unanswered, with surveys suggesting Tokyo residents are beginning to cool on the idea of hosting the Games during a global pandemic.

- What will a post-COVID Games look like? -

In a word, "simpler" -- the new buzzword for Olympic officials.

Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori put it best when he said the Olympics "used to be conducted in an extravagant, grand, splendour. But the point is that in the face of COVID, would that kind of Games be accepted?"

With millions around the world losing jobs and the global economy facing the worst downturn since the Great Depression, officials are at pains to dial down the razzmatazz.

"We are looking, together with our Japanese partners and friends, on ways to simplify the organisation of the Games, how we can reduce the complexity of the Games, how we can save costs for these postponed Games," International Olympic Committee boss Thomas Bach told AFP in an interview last month.

But exactly how remains unclear. Tokyo 2020 has said there are 200 possible cost-cutting measures under discussion, without revealing examples.

Plans said to be on the table include cutting the number of spectators and reducing participation in the opening and closing ceremonies.

- How much will it cost? -

Again, we don't really know.

According to the latest budget, the Games were due to cost $12.6 billion, shared between the organising committee, the government of Japan and Tokyo city.

But the postponement has thrown up a plethora of new costs -- from re-booking venues and transport to retaining a huge organising committee staff for an extra year.

The IOC has already set aside $800 million to help organisers and sports federations meet the extra costs of a postponed Olympics, $650 million of which is earmarked for the Games.

Tokyo 2020 officials have remained tight-lipped about additional costs, saying they need to finalise the organisational side of things before working out the bill.

- What are the main headaches? -

Almost every aspect of the Olympic Games, after seven years of preparation, needs to be unpicked and started again. Let's take two of the major problems: sponsorship and venues.

Just before the year-to-go landmark, Tokyo 2020 said it had secured 100 percent of the venues for next year, leaving the competition schedule broadly unchanged.

But it remains unclear how much rearranging the venues will cost -- including buying out organisations that had reserved them for 2021.

Another major problem is the athletes' village, with many units already sold off as luxury bayside apartments.

The postponement and continued uncertainty surrounding the Games is also making sponsors jittery, with doubts over the $3.3 billion they were expected to stump up -- more than half Tokyo's revenue.

A poll published last month by Japanese public broadcaster NHK suggested 65 percent of sponsors had not decided whether to extend their financial backing for another year.

- Will they even happen? -

Senior officials from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe downwards have conceded a second postponement would be virtually impossible and that if the Games are not held next year, they would have to be scrapped.

Bach said he understood Japan's view that 2021 was the "last option" for the Tokyo Games, stressing postponement cannot go on forever.

Even the biggest optimists admit no one can be certain the coronavirus situation will allow the Games to happen.

"To be honest with you I don't think the Olympics is likely to be held next year," said Kentaro Iwata, a professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University.

"Japan might be able to control this disease by next summer, I wish we could, but I don't think that will happen everywhere on Earth, so in this regard I'm very pessimistic," he said.

- Will it be safe? -

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike told AFP last month that she would be making a "120 percent" effort to ensure the safety of everyone attending the Games, but this is no easy task.

Organisers have vowed to look at coronavirus countermeasures "from this autumn forward" but the scale of the challenge was encapsulated by John Coates, a top IOC official in charge of working with the Tokyo 2020 team.

"Do we quarantine the Olympic village? Do all athletes when they get there go into quarantine? Do we restrict having spectators at the venues? Do we separate the athletes from the mixed zone where the media are?"

"We've got real problems because we've got athletes having to come from 206 different nations," said Coates.

"There's a lot of people."

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