Olympics: From 'best prepared' to postponed - Tokyo 2020's rocky road

A 3D printed Olympics logo is seen in front of displayed "Tokyo 2021" words in this illustration taken on March 24, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Olympic officials regularly lauded Tokyo as the best prepared host city they had seen. But no one could have planned for the coronavirus pandemic that has forced an unprecedented postponement of the 2020 Games.

And while organisers won praise, a plagiarism scandal, corruption charges and budget woes all clouded the horizon even before the virus outbreak threatened the Games.

Here, AFP Sport chronicles the path to postponement:

  • 2013: Tears of joy - TV news presenters burst into tears and thousands of people erupt in screams of delight as the IOC awards the Games to Tokyo in September 2013. With emotions running high, the thoughts of many Japanese turn to the thousands of victims of a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, with the Olympics seen by some as a golden opportunity to rebuild. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vows Tokyo will be a "safe pair of hands" with a reputation for efficiency and competence.

  • 2015: Stadium scrapped - Embarrassment for Abe as he is forced to tear up blueprints for the proposed national stadium when costs balloon out of control. "I have decided we must go back to the drawing board," a red-faced Abe says in July 2015 after public anger over the US$2 billion (S$2.89 billion) price tag which would have made it the world's most expensive stadium.

  • 2015: Logo dropped - Scandal follows in September 2015 as the logo for the Games is ditched after accusations of plagiarism. Designer Olivier Debie says the design is stolen from his logo for a Belgian theatre and threatens court action before officials withdraw the emblem, saying it "no longer has public support".

  • 2018: Cute mascots - After the logo disaster, there is relief at the smooth rollout of futuristic mascots for the Olympics and Paralympics, chosen by schoolchildren. Olympic mascot "Miraitowa" - combining the Japanese words for future and eternity - is a blue-checked, doe-eyed character with pointy ears, while Paralympic counterpart "Someity" sports pink checks derived from Japan's famous cherry blossoms.

  • 2019: French charges - French investigating magistrates in January 2019 charge the former head of Japan's Olympic Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, as they probe two payments totalling US$2.3 million made before and after the Japanese capital was chosen. Takeda says he was "never involved" in any decision-making process over the payment and protests his innocence but he steps down as head of Japan's Olympic Committee.

  • 2019: Budget blowout - Organisers unveil the final version of their budget in December, with the Games expected to cost US$12.6 billion, although Tokyo 2020 and the IOC are still wrangling over the cost of moving the marathon. An audit suggests the national government's part of the overall bill, which is supposed to be 150 billion yen, is actually nearly 10 times that. Organisers say auditors are counting expenses only tangentially related to the running of the Games.

  • 2020: Cancellation 'unthinkable' - By late March, the coronavirus outbreak has been declared a pandemic causing more than 325,000 infections and over 14,400 deaths. With pressure growing for organisers to acknowledge the Games may be hit, Tokyo governor Koike calls cancellation "unthinkable". But the IOC and Japanese officials gradually begin to concede a delay may now be on the cards.


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