The Olympic flame is en route around Japan and athletes around the world are stepping up their training programs, but 100 days before the delayed Tokyo 2020 games finally open, its organizers face monumental challenges.
The biggest headache is the resurgence of the coronavirus, with countries like India and Brazil battling new variants and a further rise in cases and continued anti-virus restrictions at borders disrupting many of the events of qualification.
In Japan, its vaccination schedule has been the slowest among developed economies, with Tokyo entering and exiting lockdowns smoothly and battling a new surge in cases.
On Wednesday, the head of the Tokyo Medical Association warned that the rise in infections could make it “really difficult” to hold the Games.
An increase in the number of cases in Osaka city has already forced organizers to change plans for the Olympic Torch Relay, which started in Fukushima last month, with the event moving to a closed course in a park without spectators.
Foreign spectators have already been barred from attending the Games, which will open on July 23, but organizers have yet to decide how to handle a domestic audience.
“The situation is constantly changing. Even in the last few months, the coronavirus situation has changed tremendously, and it will continue to do so, and it is very difficult to continue with the preparations when we don’t know what the situation will be in the future, ”Hidemasa said. Nakamura, the top official of the organizing committee overseeing the logistical preparations for the Games.
In a ceremony Wednesday to mark 100 days of the Games, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she was determined to make the event a success despite the challenges.
“The fight against an invisible enemy, the coronavirus, is the cause of the one-year delay (from the Tokyo Olympics to 2021), and it has been a major test for humanity,” Koike said. “I would like us to overcome the fight against the coronavirus and make the Games a memorable event.”
Athletes also seem eager to return to the international stage.
“The past 14 months have been very motivating for all of us,” said five-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who represents the United States, last week.
“Once we get there, we really want to show the world all the work we’ve done.”
In Japan, swimmer Rikako Ikee added a feel-good factor by earning a spot on the Olympic relay team just two years after being diagnosed with leukemia.
The organizers promise a “safe and secure” event.
Although participants are not required to go through quarantine or be vaccinated, many countries have already started vaccinating their teams and the International Olympic Committee has obtained Chinese-made doses for athletes in countries without access.
Competitors will remain in the Athletes’ Village in Tokyo’s Chuo district, which is expected to accommodate 15,000 people from more than 200 countries, and will be tested regularly for the virus. The organizers have scheduled 126,000 volunteers to guide athletes and spectators around the city.
“The medical system is already under strain. Our local health center cannot take care of these athletes in the village, ”said Hideki Hayakawa, director of the Olympic coordination unit in the Chuo district.
Hayakawa said taking care of athletes’ medical needs and other issues were still being negotiated with the Tokyo government.
the #OlympicTorchRelay currently traveling through Japan as a beacon of hope. #Tokyo is now in the final stages of preparations, so mark your calendar everyone – there are 100 days left until the Olympics # Tokyo2020! pic.twitter.com/hKbbmQqYUt
– Government of Tokyo (@Tokyo_gov) April 14, 2021
– Nadia Comaneci (@ nadiacomaneci10) April 14, 2021
Nakamura’s team created the first ‘playbook’ with COVID-19 countermeasures for Olympic visitors, including rules banning visits to shops and restaurants. Athletes who violate protocol could be banned from competing.
The next rule update is expected this month, he said.
Feel the heat
Nakamura said the summer heat and humidity was another hurdle for Tokyo, and “there will be situations where it will be difficult to balance both heat and coronavirus countermeasures,” such as when masked people line up outside the premises.
City official Yoichiro Hara, who oversees preparations on public roads around the sites, added that “symptoms of heat exhaustion may be similar to those of coronavirus.”
Hara said his team was considering whether medical staff at aid stations should wear full protective suits, but with the difficulty of assessing the prevalence of the virus in July and no decision yet on the number of spectators , they haven’t been able to decide how many stations are needed.
Some local organizers complain that information from Tokyo has arrived slowly and that they are learning key developments from the media. Others, like Mie Watanabe, who is preparing the road running course in Oyama, a town 90 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, fear that months of work will be wasted.
“The fact that we don’t know if roadside spectators will be allowed is a big problem for us – it means some of our preparations won’t be necessary,” Watanabe said, listing items such as tents, toilets and parking spaces.
Polls show most Japanese are in favor of postponing the Games again or canceling it, but numbers in favor of holding the event this summer have climbed to around 27% in March, down from just 11% in January. .
“The COVID-19 situation will naturally influence the public view of the Games,” organizers said in response to questions from the AFP news agency.
They noted that most of the Olympics were criticized before they started, but said they expected the mood to change once the competition began.
“Each time we are inspired by their strength and resilience and it will be truer than ever this year.”