The 2020 Tokyo Olympic organizing committee drew rave reviews from its future guests after completing its first organized group tour for National Olympic Committees earlier this week.
Organizers of Tokyo’s second Summer Games have had to weather a number of controversies to date, with issues ranging from an enormously expensive new National Stadium to logo plagiarism accusations and an overall budget that was once said to be ballooning out to ¥3 trillion ($26.6 billion).
But such headaches have not detracted from the work being put in behind the scenes by the organizing committee, which the NOCs came to recognize on their visit.
Representatives from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand participated in a three-day guided visit to 26 of the Tokyo Games venues. Four more similar tours will be conducted in the lead up to 2020, with a seminar attended by all 206 NOCs to be held one year before the Olympics open.
Luke Pellegrini, the acting general manager of games support and operations for the Australian Olympic Committee, said Tokyo’s preparations look well advanced 3½ years out.
“We’ve been really impressed,” Pellegrini said in an interview with Kyodo News. “Across all the NOCs in the bus yesterday, everyone was saying this is going to be a good games. Everyone is confident that it’s on track, ahead of the game at the moment and will continue to be.”
He said some of the venues “looked like they could run sporting events next week.”
“The taekwondo and fencing venue (Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture) literally looked like it could stage sporting events next week if it needed to — and I’m sure it could, and that is a huge advantage,” he said.
“The 1964 stadiums for table tennis, the water polo, they look ready to go now. In that respect, we are thrilled. We don’t see anything, 3½ years out, that is a concern to us. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the experience.”
When Tokyo was bidding for 2020, it sold itself as a compact games, with almost all of the venues other than those for soccer inside an 8-km radius from the Olympic village.
But since winning the bid, several sports have been shifted outside Tokyo to neighboring Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures to cut costs, with track cycling even farther away in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Yet even with the venue changes, Pellegrini said the Tokyo Games will be compact enough, especially with Japan’s efficient and speedy public transportation system.
“The most impressive thing is how central 70 percent of the venues are,” he said. “We were amazed at the location of the Olympic village literally being downtown. That is a fantastic opportunity for our athletes to experience the games and also Tokyo. It is a very central location to get to the venues for all our athletes.”
He added, “We all commented that being able to experience the 1964 heritage venues, and also the brand new venues — which sometimes are right next door to each other — is amazing. I think that will be a nice, unusual benefit of the Tokyo Games. We haven’t seen that before.
“For us, the other events in Yokohama and the like, we understand through the organizing committee that transport will be good between venues. We’re not really concerned about that at this point and the feedback from our sports (representatives) is that they’re not concerned.”
Pellegrini said Australia will bring around 450 athletes to Tokyo in 2020, with a total delegation of up to 800, including staff and officials.
The AOC — which is presided over by John Coates, who is also chairman of the International Olympic Committee’s Coordination Commission for the Tokyo Olympics — expects to visit Japan three to four times a year leading up to 2020, as other large NOCs are likely to do.
Australia also expects a huge turnout of fans in Tokyo, given the relative geographic proximity of the two nations and the healthy competitive sporting relationship the countries enjoy.
“I know Australian fans are very excited that this will be the closest games to us since Beijing and in the same time zone,” said Pellegrini.
“It will be good for our spectators to watch it live without having to get up in the middle of the night to watch finals, which we are very used to doing.”
“For us, this trip has been very valuable in getting an insight into where things are going to be and meeting the organizing committee, making sure we know who to speak to and telling them ‘these are the things that we will need, can you provide them to us?’ “