Coronavirus: Olympic organisers unveil scaled-back pandemic Games plan

Tokyo Olympics organising committee president Yoshiro Mori (centre) speaks during a press conference in Tokyo on Sept 25, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (AFP) - Athlete welcome ceremonies will be scrapped and flashy spectacles axed at a scaled-back Tokyo 2020 Games, organisers said on Friday (Sept 25), but a senior Olympic official insisted the event "has to happen".

Fewer free tickets and savings on banners, mascots and fireworks are among more than 50 cost-cutting measures agreed by organisers and Olympic officials, less than a year before the virus-postponed event begins.

Despite the complications and extra costs of the delay, and continued uncertainty about how the massive international event can be held safely, International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president John Coates said cancellation was not an option.

"It would have been very easy for you to say 'this isn't possible'," he said via videolink after a meeting of organisers and Olympic officials in Tokyo and elsewhere.

"But I think we all share the view that this has to be possible, this has to happen, because we cannot disregard a generation of Olympic athletes."

Documents released by organisers painted a picture of a less-than-opulent event, with the size of behind-the-scenes delegations reduced by 10 to 15 per cent, and perks cut back.

The number of athletes will not be reduced, organisers pledged.

But officials, press and others involved with the Games will be given fewer complimentary tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies - with changes to the usually dazzling contents of the events themselves under review.

"What was initially proposed (for the ceremonies) has been drastically changing," acknowledged Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo organising committee.

"Maybe it will end up a bit more modest and simple, but I hope it will be something that gives joy."

The 2020 Games were postponed earlier this year as the coronavirus spread around the globe, and are now set to open on July 23, 2021.

The latest budget is for US$12.6 billion (S$17.35 billion) - with costs set to balloon further as venues and transport must be re-booked, and staff retained for an extra year.

Other cost-cutting plans include giving athletes less time to train at venues, and consolidating security points, raising the possibility of longer queues for bag-checks.

Presentation ceremonies to introduce each sport should be produced in "bare-minimum quality and quantity", the documents said.

And welcoming ceremonies held for Olympic and Paralympic teams will be scrapped altogether.

Coates described the plans as a blueprint for "a new Games, fit for a post-corona world" that could be used in future.

"We're going to leave an important legacy which we're calling the Tokyo Model," he added.

There are signs that public enthusiasm in Japan is waning for the Olympics, however, after a recent poll found just one in four want them to go ahead next year, with most backing either another postponement or a cancellation.

Organisers and local officials are engaged in complex discussions about how to safely hold the Games if the pandemic is not under control.

Coates said measures including regular testing and mandatory vaccination - if a vaccine is available - were among the possibilities.

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