With two years to go before the opening of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, the recently announced itinerary of the sports events and the torch relay — which are both scheduled to start in Fukushima Prefecture — sends a symbolic message about the organizers’ hope to cast the games as an event to showcase the efforts to recover from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear disaster. Preparations for hosting the games are steadily proceeding, including the construction of the new National Stadium, which was significantly delayed after the initial plan was scrapped due to cost overruns. Meanwhile, the heat wave that is scorching the nation has rekindled concerns over holding the games during Tokyo’s hot and humid summer season.
Last week, the International Olympic Committee approved the plan for the rough itinerary of the record 339 events in 33 sports that will be held at the 2020 Games, which will take place from July 24 to Aug. 9. A softball game that pits Japan’s national team against a yet unnamed opponent will be held July 22 — ahead of the opening ceremony — at a stadium in Fukushima, where the opening game of the baseball tournament will also take place July 29. Earlier this month it was also revealed that a 121-day torch relay to carry the flame that will be used to light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony will start on March 26 that year in Fukushima. The torch will then be carried southward and reach Okinawa Prefecture in May, then be carried northward and reach Hokkaido in June before finally arriving at its final destination in Tokyo.
Promoting the recovery from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that ravaged broad areas of the Pacific coast in Tohoku, as well as the subsequent disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, was a core concept in Japan’s bid for the 2020 Summer Games, which it won in 2013. The decision to kick off both the torch relay and sports events in Fukushima — where, seven years after the disaster, some 45,000 people remain displaced from their homes — will carry a special meaning for the games.
Tokyo Organizing Committee chief Yoshiro Mori stressed that the relay’s start in Fukushima will serve as a symbol of the region’s recovery and a chance for Japan to offer its gratitude for the support and encouragement it received at the time of the disaster. Kit McConnell, the IOC’s sports director, said the events to be held in Fukushima will help deliver a strong message from the area and provide a chance for people to learn about the disaster and the hardships that residents still face. The organizers should explore further efforts to deliver the message to the participants and spectators of the games from around the world.
Despite earlier concerns about delays and ballooning expenses, work on the sports venues for the games is progressing steadily. Construction began on the new National Stadium — the main venue of the games — in December 2016 after a delay of more than a year following the scrapping of the original plan due to its massive costs. It is reportedly on schedule to be completed in November 2019. Most of the other sports venues that are being built for the 2020 games have either been completed or are under construction as planned.
Courses have been announced for long-distance events such as the marathon, race walking and the bicycle road race. The adoption of the rough itinerary of events presents the overall shape of the games, setting the stage for organizers to devise more detailed schedules of the events before the launch of ticket sales next spring.
As the clock ticks down toward the 2020 Games, concern over holding outdoor events in Tokyo’s hot and humid summer climate — an issue that has been under scrutiny since the capital was awarded the games — has gained greater urgency due to the heat wave that claimed the lives of at least 65 people and led to more than 20,000 being taken to hospitals across the country in the week up to last Sunday.
The organizers and the IOC have responded by moving up the start of outdoor events such as the marathon, race walking, golf and triathlon to earlier in the morning — for example, both the men’s and women’s marathon will start at 7 a.m. and the 50 km race walk at 6 a.m. — to reduce the intense summer heat on both athletes and spectators. Since the Olympic events will involve massive numbers of people, the organizers should use the remaining two years to explore whether such steps will be sufficient to protect the health of not only the athletes but of all participants and spectators.