Japan held subdued celebrations last night to mark one year until the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with the coronavirus pandemic raising stark concerns about whether the Games will go ahead.
In Tokyo, which should have been buzzing with thousands of athletes and fans by now, organizers held a a small event at an empty National Stadium.
Olympic countdown boards were quietly reset around the capital, where digital signs display the message “365 days to go to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics”.
Despite the setbacks and the downbeat mood, Japanese and Olympic officials have not wavered from the message that the Games will go on, serving as a symbol of the world’s recovery from the virus.
“They will be the first worldwide gathering after the coronavirus,” International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach insisted last week.
But experts and officials — including Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — have raised the prospect of the first peace-time cancellation of the multi-billion dollar Games if the pandemic is not under control by next year.
The historic decision in March to delay the Games came as the real scale of the pandemic was emerging and countries imposed lockdowns that threw training into chaos and forced the cancellation of qualifiers and test events.
Since then, restrictions have been eased across much of Europe as infections and deaths from the virus decline, but elsewhere — including in the United States, Brazil and India — the disease remains rampant.
And in places where lockdowns have ended or countermeasures been eased, the virus has often come roaring back, raising questions about the feasibility of an event involving tens of thousands of people arriving from around the world.
Public sentiment in Japan also appears less than optimistic, with two polls in July showing the majority of Japanese think the Games should be postponed again or cancelled altogether.*AFP