1 year to go: Japan, IOC challenged to show world Olympics are viable

The Olympics are officially one year away. 

You may not have thought a lot about these upcoming Games — and that may not be a bad thing. Yes, this Tokyo bid has had the hiccups that plague almost every previous Games. But for the most part, Tokyo’s countdown to the Olympics has happened without the daily drumbeat of controversy and bad news. For the first time in a while, the host country seems genuinely excited to have the Games.

“There was actually no public support at the very early stages of the bid,” says Robert Livingstone, the founder of Gamesbids.com, who has tracked Tokyo’s bid since its inception.

“Then they started really promoting it and their numbers came way up. They won the bid and the numbers just kept escalating. I mean, it’s something they really, really want in Tokyo and in Japan, definitely.” 

But with any Olympics, organizers always face questions prior to the Games. 

Here are five that are unfolding for Tokyo organizers: 

Ticket sales

If ticket sales are any indication, the Japanese public seems very interested in these Games. 

The first batch of Olympic tickets made available was snapped up almost immediately. 

“People had said their computers broke down, but they actually didn’t, they just sold out so quick that people didn’t have access to it,” Livingstone said.

Tokyo 2020 organizers report more than three million tickets have been sold in Japan alone. A second lottery will be held in August. Overall, there are about 7.8 million tickets available for all events. About a quarter of those tickets are never made available to the public. About one-third of tickets are made available to foreign buyers.

“The demand from the general public indeed exceeded our expectations,” Tokyo spokesperson Masa Takaya told The Associated Press. He said organizers were “absolutely pleased” by the interest.


Kosuke Kitajima, a four-time Olympic swimming gold medallist, helped Tokyo Olympic organizers launch their ticket website in April. (Yuta Omori/Kyodo News via The Associated Press)

Venues

Tokyo 2020 comes as the International Olympic Committee puts more emphasis on building only what is necessary as it tries to shed images of white elephant venues that dot many former Olympic sites: venues built by past Olympic hosts such as Athens, Beijing and Rio sit abandoned today.

The IOC’s new agenda encourages more renovations and temporary structures as opposed to building many new venues from scratch.

Though much of Tokyo’s building was already underway, of the roughly 40 venues spread across greater Tokyo and beyond, many already exist and some are simply being given long-needed renovations. Livingstone says some of the larger, more expensive projects have been on Tokyo’s to-do list for years.

“The new Olympic stadium is something they’ve wanted for years. They built it,” Livingstone said. “They had something more elaborate planned, they cut it back a bit. It’s something they’re definitely going to use.”

Livingstone points out Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world with an active population. He says nearly every Olympic venue will be used after the Games.

“They’ve modified the plan throughout to make sure it’s only venues that they really need. So I don’t think it’s going to be one of these, you know, white elephant kind of Games, where you can have these crumbling venues after that nobody uses.”


The Olympic baseball stadium in Athens, pictured July 31, 2014 — 10 years after the country hosted the Summer Games. Due to Greece’s economic frailties post-Olympic Games, the majority of the constructed stadiums remain abandoned. (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

Controversy

Olympic watchers know that away from the pageantry, there is unseemly behaviour and other inevitabilities that accompany seemingly every Olympic bid. Tokyo is no different.

In March, Tsunekazu Takeda, head of Japan’s Olympic Committee, abruptly resigned amid a bribery investigation involving Tokyo’s successful bid. So far, no officials have been charged.

These Games will also cost more than organizers originally promised. Early Olympic bid estimates are notoriously unreliable, and Tokyo’s was no different. Organizers initially said the Games would cost around $ 1 billion. That number has escalated closer to $ 7 billion as final costs become clear. 

However, Livingstone says, Tokyo has been able to offset much of the overrun by generating an unprecedented amount of advertising revenue: Organizers have raised $ 3 billion from Japanese advertisers alone, three times more than any previous Summer Games.

Neither scandal has lingered, according to Livingstone.

“I don’t think locally they’re so concerned about the costs at this point. I don’t think the IOC is too concerned about the bid process and the potential bribery that went on,” Livingstone says. “The IOC kind of already brushed it off the shoulder, saying, ‘Well, we’ve changed that step.’ Now, whether that’s valid or not is another question.”


Tsunekazu Takeda resigned from his post as president of the Japanese Olympic Committee amid bribery accusations. (Martin Bureau AFP/Getty Images)

Climate

Organizers know Tokyo’s crippling summertime heat — the average July temperature is more than 30 C, with many days topping 40 C — will be an issue for both athletes and spectators.

After stark warnings from Japan’s medical association, some events have been shifted to take place amid cooler temperatures. The marathon will start at 6 a.m local time. Race walking, triathlon and rugby sevens have been shifted to the early morning, while the mountain biking events will start in the late afternoon.

More than 100 kilometres of road, including the routes for the marathon and walking events, could be sprayed with a product that reflects heat and ultraviolet rays to reduce temperatures, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told the BBC.

“We have developed mist-spraying technologies, which are nano-particle-sized,” said Koike. “If this heat-blocking pavement is covering the asphalt then, on average, there will be a temperature suppression of eight degrees Celsius.”

Livingstone says the IOC will be watching closely to see what works effectively to combat the heat in Tokyo.

“Los Angeles will be a future host. How will climate change affect that experience? In Paris, another future host, we have had record-setting temperatures this summer,” Livingstone says. “This is going be a test for the IOC to see what they can do to deal with this heat.”

WATCH | How athletes are preparing for extreme heat:

It looks like a vitamin, but it’s really a computer. This computerized pill is helping Canada’s high performance athletes prepare for the heat at the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Trent Stellingwerff of the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific shows us how it works, with race walker Evan Dunfee. 1:34

New sports

The 2020 Games will welcome four new sports: skateboarding, sport climbing, surfing and karate.

Livingstone says the move is an obvious appeal by the IOC to an elusive younger audience.

“Skateboarding and surfing, that’s what kids like to do and like to see,” Livingstone says. “Things change, and when you look back at sports a hundred years ago, they’re completely different than today. I think the IOC definitely has to evolve and move forward. It has to keep attracting the contemporary demographic.”

So let the countdown begin. Tokyo still has a year left before the world turns its attention to the Olympics. As awareness grows of the problems created by global mega events, Tokyo 2020 is a chance for Japan and the IOC to show the world the Games are viable and worthwhile.

“If the IOC can demonstrate in Tokyo that the venues are going to be used, that they’ve raised a ton of money and it’s a great legacy for the city and for sports, it will smooth the way moving forward,” Livingstone says. “They’ve already elected Paris. They’ve already elected Los Angeles. So they’ve got this 10-year plan going, but this will be a good start to move beyond that.”

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