National

Plenty of challenges ahead for Tokyo as six-month countdown to Olympics begins

by Ryusei Takahashi

Staff Writer

Friday marked six months until the opening of the 2020 Olympic Games, and although Tokyo has received praise for its preparations to host the world’s biggest sporting event, the road up until now has also had its fair share of potholes and speed bumps, and there’s plenty still to be done.

With the government hoping to attract a record 40 million visitors to Japan this year, Tokyo is addressing every front, from building new venues and training 80,000 volunteers to strengthening cybersecurity and improving accessibility for people who don’t speak Japanese and those with disabilities.

The host city has spent more than ¥1.37 trillion ($12.5 billion) on preparations for the 2020 Games, according to an annual budget plan released Friday by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The International Olympic Committee has spent more than ¥600 billion and the central government ¥150 billion.

Critics remain skeptical that the “Recovery Olympics” will lead to revivals in areas affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, as Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged. And the recent spread of a new coronavirus in China has raised concerns of an outbreak during the Olympics.

“A majority of the large construction projects for the 2020 Games have been completed,” Koike said during a news conference on Friday. “As we finalize preparations, including protection against infectious diseases, we need to prepare for the unexpected.”

On Friday, the Japan Coast Guard conducted an anti-terrorism drill on a passenger boat at Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier, as many of the venues are located near the waterfront.

Preparations for the 2020 Games have been plagued from the start by concerns about Tokyo’s infamous summer heat and the impact it might have on athletes, volunteers, staff and spectators. Free ice cream, artificial snow, giant mist machines and trees strategically planted to create shade are just a few items on a growing list of countermeasures being devised in the run-up to the opening ceremony on July 24.

The 1964 Games were held in October to avoid this issue. This time around, however, it will be held in the middle of summer due to pressure from Western media outlets.

Growing concern over the weather came to a head in October when the IOC made a unilateral decision to move the marathon and race walking events to Sapporo, where the temperature is typically about 5 to 6 degrees cooler than in Tokyo in late July and early August. Two weeks later, Koike, who was apparently blindsided by the sudden announcement, reluctantly agreed to support the decision.

Tickets for the relocated marathon and race walking events are not yet available since preparations had to begin from scratch, but nearly all other events for the 2020 Games have been met with unprecedented interest from the public.

So far about 4.4 million tickets for the Olympic Games have been sold to Japanese residents, with the number of applications during the first lottery totaling 16 times the number of tickets available, according to organizers. A final round of ticket sales will take place in the spring on a first-come, first-served basis.

Domestic demand has also outnumbered supply for the Paralympic Games, which will begin Aug. 25. More than 3 million ticket requests were made during the first lottery and just over 600,000 were sold. The second lottery began on Jan. 15.

A total of 43 venues will be used during the 2020 Olympic Games. Construction at all but one of the eight new venues built by the metropolitan government is complete. Construction for the Tokyo Aquatics Centre is expected to be finished in February according to games organizers.

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