Pandemic-postponed Tokyo 2020’s turbulent Olympic timeline

Published April 13, 2021, 12:19 PM

by Agence-France-Presse

(This file photo taken on September 7, 2013 shows International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge displaying the name of the city of Tokyo elected to host the 2020 Summer Olympics during a session of the IOC in Buenos Aires. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

From the unprecedented coronavirus postponement to sexism scandals and a ban on overseas fans, the path to staging the Tokyo Olympics has been far from smooth.

With 100 days to go until the opening ceremony on July 23, AFP chronicles Tokyo’s troubled journey to the Games.

2013: Tears and cheers

News presenters shed tears and crowds erupt in delight as the International Olympic Committee names Tokyo host of the 2020 Games.

Thoughts turn to the victims of Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, with the Olympics seen as a chance to rebuild.

2015-16: Stadium and logo ditched

his file photo taken on October 24, 2020 shows indoor view of Tokyo Aquatics Centre, a venue for swimming, diving and artistic swimming of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Games, during its opening ceremony in Tokyo. (Photo by Behrouz MEHRI / AFP)

Proposals for a new national stadium went back to the drawing board in July 2015 following public anger over the $2 billion price tag.

As the Games stumble from one problem to another, Kenjiro Sano’s original Olympic logo design has to be ditched over its resemblance to the emblem of a Belgian theatre. Sano denies plagiarism.

The following year a new “snake-eye” logo for the Games is unveiled.

2019: Payments probe, marathon switch

French magistrates charge the head of Japan’s Olympic committee as they probe payments totalling $2.3 million made before and after Tokyo’s nomination. 

Tsunekazu Takeda protests his innocence but later steps down from the role.

In October, the IOC shifts the Olympic marathon to northern Sapporo to avoid the capital’s sweltering summer heat — a surprise move that infuriates Tokyo officials.

March 24, 2020: Historic postponement

With the coronavirus spreading rapidly worldwide, Japan and the IOC make the historic decision to postpone the Olympics.

A new date is announced for the opening ceremony — July 23, 2021 — but the event will still be called Tokyo 2020.

Organisers later insist that there is “no chance” the Games will be postponed for a second time.

December 2020: Extra costs, new rules

Anti-virus measures and other delay-related costs add 294 billion yen ($2.7 billion) to the price tag, which has ballooned to at least 1.64 trillion yen ($15 billion) — making Tokyo 2020 potentially the most expensive Summer Olympics in history.

Organisers outline plans for holding the event safely, with athletes facing regular testing and restrictions on mingling, and spectators spared quarantine but banned from cheering.

The IOC says it will try to ensure as many participants as possible are vaccinated, but jabs will not be obligatory.

January 2021: Virus surges, support drops

Public support for the Olympics plunges in Japan as a virus state of emergency is declared in Tokyo and other regions to halt a winter spike in infections.

But organisers and the IOC insist the Games will be held, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga saying they will be “proof of mankind’s victory over the virus”.

February 2021: Sexism rows

This file photo taken on December 4, 2020 shows then Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori (left) chatting with then Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto prior to an opening plenary session of the three-party meeting on Tokyo 2020 Games additional costs due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Tokyo. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI and KAZUHIRO NOGI / POOL / AFP)

Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori resigns after his claims that women talk too much in meetings spark a firestorm of criticism.

He is replaced by Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto, 56, a seven-time Olympian who is one of just two women in Japan’s cabinet.

Just weeks into her tenure, she accepts the resignation of Hiroshi Sasaki, creative director for the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies after a report reveals he suggested a plus-size female comedian could appear as an “Olympig”.

March 2021: No overseas fans, torch relay begins

This file photo taken on March 25, 2021 shows Japanese torchbearer Azusa Iwashimizu a member of Japan women’s national football team, carrying the Olympic flame as a guard (left) holds a sign for Covid-19 precautions on day one of the torch relay outside J-Village National Training Centre in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture. (Photo by PHILIP FONG / POOL / AFP)

Organisers announce overseas fans will be barred from the Games to limit virus risks, marking the first time the Olympics will be held without foreign spectators.

On March 25, the cherry blossom-shaped Olympic torch is lit in Fukushima, with no spectators allowed at the launch.

But fans are permitted to line the route as the flame traverses the country’s 47 prefectures, borne by 10,000 runners, before arriving for the opening ceremony.

April 2021: North Korea pulls out, relay hit by virus rules

North Korea says it will not attend the Tokyo Games to protect its athletes from Covid-19 — dashing Seoul’s hopes of using the Games to restart talks with its nuclear-armed neighbour.

In Japan, virus rules are tightened in several parts of the country as cases spike, including in Tokyo and Osaka, where the torch relay is forced off public roads as a result.