The countdown to the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will reach one month on Wednesday, and the stage is all but set after months of trials and tribulations for Japan to host the world’s largest sporting event during a global pandemic.
Organizers have laid out COVID-19 protocols for athletes, staff and other participants, punishments for those who violate them and, most recently, how many domestic spectators will be allowed to attend competitive events in person.
All that’s left is for athletes to compete, fans to revel and the country to prepare for whatever happens next.
“We are in the full delivery phase,” Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said during a news conference Monday. “Athletes are beginning to arrive in Tokyo, ready to make their Olympic dreams become a reality.”
Ever since they were postponed last year due to the pandemic, there has been speculation that the games would be canceled altogether. But with only a month to go, that scenario grows less likely with each passing day.
As final preparations are made, organizers continue to insist that the risks can be mitigated through extensive virus countermeasures and reduced attendance.
On Monday, the Tokyo Organising Committee announced that spectators will be limited to 50% of capacity or 10,000 fans per venue — whichever figure is lower — but 20,000 people will be allowed to watch, in person, the opening ceremony on July 23.
Fans will be required to wear masks at all times and asked to refrain from cheering.
The organizing committee’s decision clashed with the warnings of Japan’s infectious disease advisers, who published a report Friday saying that banning all spectators is the safest way to hold the games.
It’s not yet clear exactly how many of the 3.6 million domestic ticket holders will be able to attend the games, but organizers are expected to announce on Wednesday the details of a ticket lottery to decide who gets to keep their tickets, and who gets their money back.
All live viewing sites in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area for nonticket holders will be canceled, and several will be used instead as temporary vaccination sites.
Athletes will need to be tested twice for the coronavirus before boarding a flight to Japan, be tested daily after their arrival, submit a detailed itinerary of their daily activities, agree to have their location monitored via GPS and, among other things, sign a waiver in case they become infected or lose their life to COVID-19.
Failure to comply, organizers said, could result in a disciplinary warning, a monetary fine or temporary or permanent expulsion from the event — or even future games — depending on the severity of the infraction.
While vaccinations will not be mandatory, Bach said Monday that about 80% of athletes, staff and media will be vaccinated by the opening ceremony.
But their inoculation may not prevent the virus from spreading among spectators or the public, of which less than 20% have received their first dose.
On Sunday, a member of the Ugandan Olympic team tested positive after arriving at Narita Airport in the first known case among participants in the Tokyo Games traveling to Japan.
The athletes village — which is located on the Harumi waterfront of Tokyo’s Chuo Ward — will open officially on July 13. Organizers estimate that around 30,000 people will stay there over the course of both the Olympics and Paralympics.
For all the steps being taken to prevent a massive COVID-19 outbreak, critics say it’s the domestic population — and the capital’s already battered health care system — that will pay the price.
Japan’s third state of emergency was lifted on Sunday in nine prefectures but extended until next month in Okinawa. In seven prefectures, including Tokyo, quasi-emergency measures will remain in place until July 11.
Although competitive events will technically begin a day prior to the opening ceremony, the Olympics will take place from July 23 to Aug. 8, followed by the Paralympics, which will run from Aug. 24 until Sept. 5.
More than 11,000 athletes will compete at the Olympics and Paralympics.
In the Olympics, 339 gold medals will be up for grabs across 33 sports, including five competitions making their Olympic debut or being reintroduced to the event: baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing.
During the Paralympics, 4,400 athletes will compete for 540 gold medals across 22 sports including, for the first time, taekwondo and badminton.
The organizing committee announced Friday that officials and staff from overseas — of which more than 180,000 were expected to attend the games — will be reduced to around 53,000.
Around 70,000 volunteers, down from the initial 80,000, will provide support during the games. Organizers have said volunteers will be tested for COVID-19 based on the “nature of their role” and their “proximity to athletes.”
Road to the games
In the midst of its ongoing battle to overcome the coronavirus, Japan will become the first country in Asia to host the Summer Games twice, the first time being in 1964.
In the seven years since it won the hosting rights in 2013, the Tokyo Games have been plagued by ballooning costs and political controversy, both of which were made immeasurably worse by the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic last year.
That is to say nothing of the fact the games were postponed in March 2020 for one year, the first time the games have ever been rescheduled for reasons other than war.
From the shady dealings of a top organizer to win the host bid — which are currently under investigation by French authorities — to the abrupt replacement in 2015 of the chief architect of the new National Stadium and multiple scandals that exposed sexism and gender inequality among organizing bodies, the Tokyo Games have attracted bad press. Recently, that has only been compounded by the steady commitment of organizers and public officials to prioritizing the inoculation and protection of athletes, staff and even journalists, despite most of the public remaining unvaccinated.
Public opposition reached a peak in May, most likely due to the sluggish pace of Japan’s vaccine rollout, but recent weeks have seen support rebound following efforts to expand and hasten the country’s inoculation campaign.
Oxford University said last year these Summer Games will be the most expensive ever. They’ve been called the biggest and most technologically advanced as well.
According to the final budget announced by organizers in December, the Tokyo Games will cost ¥1.64 trillion, though an audit by the central government revealed the true costs could exceed ¥2.5 trillion.
Despite all the ups and downs, organizers remain optimistic.
“The last part of the games has been decided, and the plan is now complete,” Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee, said during a news conference Monday.
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