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Organisers and Japanese officials have ruled out the possibility of a cancellation of the Games over the coronavirus outbreak


Ups, downs and Covid: Tokyo 2020’s tumultuous Olympic timeline

The Tokyo Games have had a rocky ride, and there’s still no guarantee they will go ahead © AFP / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU

Tokyo, Japan, Mar 12 – From the ecstasy of being awarded the Olympics to the agony of coronavirus postponement, the Tokyo Games have faced many hurdles — and there’s still no guarantee they will go ahead.

Here, AFP chronicles Tokyo’s Olympic journey:

– 2013: Tears of joy –

IOC President Jacques Rogge announces the winner of the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games © AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI

News presenters shed tears and crowds erupt in delight in September as the International Olympic Committee names Tokyo the host of the 2020 Games.

Thoughts turn to the victims of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, with the Olympics seen by some as a chance to rebuild.

– 2015: Stadium plans scrapped –

Architect Kengo Kuma in 2015 explains his new design of a new, slimmed down Olympic Stadium © AFP / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA, Miguel Schincariol

Proposals for a new national stadium are ditched in July following public anger over the $2-billion price tag.

“We must go back to the drawing board,” says a red-faced Shinzo Abe, the then-prime minister.

– 2016: New logo –

Designer Asao Tokolo holds the new Tokyo Olympics logo after the original had to be ditched following a plagiarism scandal © AFP / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA

A new “snake-eye” logo is unveiled following a plagiarism scandal and immediately derided as “dull”.

The original logo by Japanese designer Kenjiro Sano had to be ditched eight months earlier following allegations it too closely resembled that of a theatre in the Belgian city of Liege. Sano denied plagiarism.

– January 2019: Payments probe –

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French magistrates charge the head of Japan’s Olympic committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, as they probe payments totalling $2.3 million made before and after Tokyo’s nomination.

Takeda protests his innocence but later steps down from the role.

– October 2019: Marathon moved –

In a surprise move that infuriates Tokyo officials, the IOC shifts the Olympic marathon to northern Sapporo to avoid the capital’s sweltering summer heat.

– March 2020: Historic postponement –

As the coronavirus spreads rapidly worldwide, officials begin to concede a delay to the Games is necessary, although Koike calls cancellation “unthinkable”.

On March 24, the IOC and Japan postpone the Olympics in a historic decision, and a new date is announced for the opening ceremony: July 23, 2021.

The Olympic flame is removed from display and giant Olympic rings off Tokyo’s waterfront are eventually towed away for maintenance.

Organising committee president Yoshiro Mori says in April there is “absolutely no” chance of postponing the Games a second time.

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– April 2020: Abe’s warning –

Just weeks after the postponement, doubts are raised over whether the delayed Games will be able to go ahead.

Abe says it will be “difficult” for Tokyo to hold the event if the virus is not contained, while Mori says it will need to be cancelled if the pandemic isn’t under control.

– July 2020: Year to go –

Big events marking a year until the Games are scrapped by organisers, and a subdued ceremony is held at the near-empty national stadium, with the public barred as infections surge in the capital.

Meanwhile, preparations continue: top athletes put the new 60,000-seat stadium through its paces behind closed doors.

– September 2020: Games to happen ‘with or without Covid’ –

IOC vice-president John Coates tells AFP the Olympics will go ahead, regardless of the pandemic, as the “Games that conquered Covid”.

Abe resigns due to poor health and new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says Japan is “determined” to host the postponed event.

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– November 2020: Bach in Tokyo –

Olympic chief Thomas Bach says he is “very, very confident” spectators will attend the Games as he travels to Japan to boost momentum for the event.

The IOC will try to ensure as many participants and spectators as possible are vaccinated, he says, but jabs will not be obligatory.

The Olympic rings return to Tokyo’s waterfront after maintenance and the city hosts an international gymnastics competition as a “litmus test” for big sports events.

– December 2020: Extra costs, new rules –

Anti-virus measures and other delay-related costs add 294 billion yen ($2.8 billion) to the price tag, which has ballooned to at least 1.64 trillion yen ($15.8 billion) — making Tokyo 2020 potentially the most expensive Summer Olympics in history.

Organisers outline plans for holding the event safely, with athletes facing regular testing and restrictions on mingling, and spectators spared quarantine but banned from cheering.

– January 2021: Virus surges, support drops –

Japan declares a virus state of emergency in the Tokyo region just over six months before the Olympics are due to open, with other regions later added.

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But Suga insists he is still committed to holding the Games as “proof of mankind’s victory over the virus”.

Polls show around 80 percent of people in Japan say the event should be cancelled or postponed again.

British rower Matthew Pinsent says Tokyo should host the event in 2024, as it would be “ludicrous” for thousands of people to gather unvaccinated.


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