Countdown begins

Thursday, April 15th, 2021 00:00 |
Statues of Miraitowa (L) and Someity, the officials mascots for the Tokyo 2020/2021 Olympics and Paralympics Games, are unveiled to mark 100 days before the start of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Tokyo yesterday. Photo/AFP

Tokyo, Wednesday

The Olympic flame is on its way across Japan and athletes around the world are ramping up training, but 100 days before Tokyo 2020 opens, organisers still face monumental challenges.

Virus surges, including in Japan, are playing havoc with preparations and fuelling uncertainty about whether the Games can, or should, happen this summer.

The torch relay has been pared back, overseas fans will be barred for the first time and rising infections mean Tokyo and several other parts of Japan are under new restrictions.

Despite that, the tone from organisers and Olympic officials is still one of confidence, with public pronouncements focused on how and not whether the Games will happen.

They have some cause for optimism.

The Olympic torch relay kicked off in Fukushima last month, albeit with spectators barred from the launch ceremony, and vaccination programmes are under way in many countries, with some athletes already inoculated.

Japan won’t require Olympic participants to be vaccinated, but the International Olympic Committee is encouraging jabs and has secured Chinese-made doses for athletes in countries without access to them.

In Japan, sports events are still on, with crowd numbers capped, and fans have become used to virus rules that will be implemented at this summer’s Games, including a ban on cheering.

North Korea’s decision to skip Tokyo 2020 over virus concerns has not prompted a rush for the exits, with athletes mostly seeming impatient for a return to the international stage.

“These past 14 months have been very motivating for all of us,” five-time Olympic gold medallist swimmer Katie Ledecky said last week.

“Once we get there we really want to show the world all the work that we’ve put in.”

In Japan, swimmer Rikako Ikee has added a feel-good factor by winning a spot on the Olympic relay team just two years after being diagnosed with leukaemia.

But it’s far from all good news, just over a year after the historic postponement.

Covid-19 surges across Japan have forced the government to tighten restrictions only weeks after they were lifted, and test events and qualifiers have been disrupted by anti-virus border controls. -AFP

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