The Tokyo Olympics have faced a historic postponement, an unprecedented ban on foreign fans and relentless domestic protests, but a month on, the finish line is finally in sight. The journey of this year’s Games includes a long list of complications that sometimes threaten to make them the first modern Olympics to be canceled in peacetime. Now, there are only four weeks left until the opening ceremony on July 23, and when the mood is far from cheery, the organizers may have reason to celebrate.
The first Olympic teams are already in Japan, along with key officials and some foreign media. And polls show that long-standing public opposition to the Games may weaken as D-Day approaches.
“We are in the full delivery phase,” Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee, said on Monday.
“Athletes are starting to arrive in Tokyo, ready to make their Olympic dreams come true.”
It has been an uphill battle since the unprecedented decision to postpone the Games in March 2020, as the scale of the pandemic began to emerge.
After this, Japanese officials said there were hopes the pandemic could be over before the opening ceremony arrived – the Games would be “proof of mankind’s victory over the virus”.
But a global coronavirus surge and the rise of more infectious forms paid off that winning tone, and fueled growing protests in Japan.
no cheers, high-fives
For the first half of the year, polls routinely found that most Japanese oppose games this summer, favoring either further delays or cancellations.
But officials pressed forward, grappling with delayed qualifiers and testing incidents and launched a massive effort to draft virus rules that they say would keep the event safe.
In March he announced that the Games would be the first to bar foreign spectators, a decision that Tokyo 2020 chief and former Olympian Seiko Hashimoto called “inevitable”.
On Monday, organizers set a maximum of 10,000 domestic fans per venue, but warned that events could go on behind closed doors if infections escalate.
Even with some spectators in the stands, there is little doubt that this year’s Games will be a copy of the Olympics past.
Cheer will be banned, and athletes cannot hug or high-five.
They must wear masks at all times except when eating, sleeping or competing and are only allowed to move between the Olympic Village and their venues.
Punishment for violating the rules will range from verbal warnings and fines to complete exclusion from the Games.
The Tokyo Olympics suffered setbacks until 2015, when improvements to the main stadium were sent back to the drawing board because it was too costly.
In 2019, the head of Japan’s Olympic Committee dropped a French investigation investigating $2.3 million in payments made before and after Tokyo’s nomination. He denied any wrongdoing.
And in February, Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori resigned after an uproar with his sexist remarks that women talk too much in meetings.
At the end of the Games, the IOC says that more than 80 percent of the people in the village will be vaccinated, but competitors will still be tested daily.
In a taste of the challenges ahead, a coach of Uganda’s Olympic team tested positive on arrival in Japan on Saturday, despite the delegation reportedly being vaccinated and testing negative prior to the trip.
Olympic delays and virus protections have added at least 294 billion yen ($2.6 billion) to an already hefty budget of 1.64 trillion yen ($14.9 billion), which could make Tokyo the costliest Summer Games ever.
But despite the coronavirus and heavy spending, there are signs public protests are softening, with recent polls showing 50 percent or more in favor of canceling games.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is facing his first election right after the Games, may be hoping for a breakthrough that could boost his political career.
His government has faced pressure over the coronavirus response, although Japan has seen a smaller outbreak than many countries, with nearly 14,500 deaths despite escaping harsh lockdowns.
The rollout of the vaccine in the country began slowly, although the pace is now picking up, with about seven per cent of the population fully inoculated.
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