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Virus delay, sexism row: Tokyo’s turbulent Olympic timeline




From a historic coronavirus postponement, to a sexism row prompting its top organizer to resign, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have faced many hurdles.

As the pandemic rages, with less than six months until the Games begin, it’s still uncertain what this summer’s event will look like — if it happens at all.

Here, AFP chronicles Tokyo’s Olympic journey:

2013: Tears of joy

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

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

2015-16: New stadium, new logo

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

The following year, a new “snake-eye” logo is unveiled following a plagiarism scandal and immediately derided as “dull”.

The original logo by designer Kenjiro Sano had to be ditched eight months earlier following allegations it too closely resembled that of a theatre in the Belgian city of Liege. Sano denied plagiarism.

2019: Payments probe

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

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

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

March 24, 2020: Historic postponement

With COVID-19 spreading rapidly worldwide, Japan and the IOC postpone the Olympics in a historic decision. A new date is announced for the opening ceremony — July 23, 2021 — but the event will still be called Tokyo 2020.

Organizers say in April there is “absolutely no” chance of postponing the Games a second time.

But just weeks after the postponement, then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warns it will be “difficult” to hold the event in 2021 if the virus is not contained.

September 2020: Games to happen ‘with or without COVID’

IOC vice president John Coates tells AFP the Olympics will go ahead, regardless of the pandemic, as the “Games that conquered COVID”.

Abe resigns due to poor health and new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says Japan is “determined” to host the postponed Games.

Preparations continue as top athletes put the new 60,000-seat stadium through its paces behind closed doors.

December 2020: Extra costs, new rules

Anti-virus measures and other delay-related costs add 294 billion yen ($2.8 billion) to the price tag, which has ballooned to at least 1.64 trillion yen ($15.8 billion) — making Tokyo 2020 potentially the most expensive Summer Olympics in history.

Organizers 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 and spectators as possible are vaccinated, but jabs will not be obligatory.

January 2021: Virus surges, support drops

Japan declares a virus state of emergency in the Tokyo region just over six months before the Olympics are due to open, with other parts of Japan later added and the measures extended for a second month.

Polls show around 80 percent of people in Japan say the event should be cancelled or postponed again.

But organizers and the IOC insist the event will be held, and Suga says the Games will be “proof of mankind’s victory over the virus”.

February 2021: Sexism furor

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

“When you increase the number of female executive members, if their speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,” the gaffe-prone 83-year-old said.

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