- Despite twists and turns in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics, Games preparations have entered the very final stretch towards the opening ceremony on July 23.
- Up to 10,000 domestic fans will be able to attend events at the Games, clarifying the last uncertainty surrounding the turbulent Games.
- The solidarity, unity and resilience of humankind can be felt in the global sporting community in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Sportswriters Bai Xu, Wang Zijiang and Yue Dongxing
TOKYO, June 23 (Xinhua) -- With the postponed Tokyo Olympics just a month away, doubts over whether the Games could take place between July 23 and August 8 are gradually fading away.
Tokyo 2020 organizers confirmed on Monday that up to 10,000 domestic fans will be able to attend events at the Games amid COVID-19 concerns, in what was perceived as a move to clarify the last remaining uncertainty surrounding the turbulent Games.
Despite public opposition and criticism, the Tokyo 2020 organizers together with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have been pressing ahead with holding the Games, which had been pushed back one year.
"Our preparation is on the very final stretch," Tokyo 2020 spokesperson Masa Takaya told Xinhua in an interview at his Harumi office building. "Tokyo 2020 is absolutely focused on delivering the Games this summer starting on July 23."
TWISTS AND TURNS
There had been twists and turns in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics.
Even before last year's postponement, soaring costs and a plagiarism scandal involving the official logo had overshadowed Games preparations.
But the coronavirus has proven to be the biggest threat.
Iwashimizu Azusa (C) and other former members of "Nadeshiko Japan", the Japanese women's football team, run as torchbearers in the first leg of the torch relay for the Tokyo Olympic Games at J-Village National Training Center in Futaba, Fukushima of Japan, on March 25, 2021. (Xinhua/Du Xiaoyi)
Japan has gone through a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections. The government decided only last week to lift the state of emergency for nine prefectures, including Tokyo, where most events will be held.
Although the number of nationwide infections has dropped from the peak of more than 7,000 in May, Japan still reports more than 1,000 new cases a day. Experts have warned that the highly transmissible Delta strain of the virus could cause infections to rebound.
Since the torch relay started in late March, it has been scaled down in a number of areas due to the resurgence of infections, as the organizers have been struggling to build public support for holding the Olympics.
More than 70 percent of Japanese want the Olympics to be canceled or postponed, according to an April poll by Kyodo News. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper, an official sponsor of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, has even called for the Games to be canceled.
The pandemic has not been the only headache for Tokyo 2020 organizers. During the second week of February 2021, a wave of doubt cast over Japan as the president of the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee Yoshiro Mori resigned over sexist remarks he made about women. He was replaced by Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto, a seven-time Olympian who is one of just two women in Japan's cabinet.
Hashimoto Seiko, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, speaks during the Tokyo 2020 Executive Board meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb. 18, 2021. (Yamazaki Yuichi/Pool via Xinhua)
Just weeks into her tenure, Hashimoto accepted the resignation of Hiroshi Sasaki, the creative director for the Games' opening and closing ceremonies after a report revealed he suggested a plus-size female comedian could appear at the ceremony as an "Olympig", a play on the word "Olympic".
"We have faced a lot of challenges during this long journey," Takaya told Xinhua. "This is an unprecedented situation for anyone."
Where there are challenges and adversities, there also lie opportunities.
A change to the Olympic motto - Faster, Higher, Stronger - to include the word "together" was proposed by IOC President Thomas Bach in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
His proposal had been met with a number of supportive messages, including from the International Pierre de Coubertin Committee, and is set to be put to the IOC Session in Tokyo for approval.
President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach speaks after his reelection for a new four-year term in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 10, 2021. (Greg Martin/IOC via Xinhua)
In fact, the spirit of unity could be felt before the Tokyo Olympics when the world was battling COVID-19.
In March, China promised to cooperate with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to provide vaccines to athletes preparing to participate in the Olympic Games.
"The IOC has received a kind offer from the Chinese Olympic Committee, hosts of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, to make additional vaccine doses available to participants in both editions of the Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022," IOC president Thomas Bach said at the virtual IOC 137th session in Lausanne.
He praised it as a "milestone" to ensure the safety of the events, saying "we are grateful for the offer, which is in the true Olympic spirit of solidarity."
The spirit of unity can also be felt by refugee athletes, representing millions of displaced people worldwide.
This year a total of 29 athletes across 12 sports will represent the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at the upcoming Tokyo Games.
South Sudan refugee athlete Paulo Amotun Lokoro at a training camp near Nairobi, Kenya, July 7, 2016. Paulo Amotun Lokoro, a member of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team, will participate in the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)
"We are refugees, we don't cry. We have to stay positive. We have to wait for our moment," said Paulo Amotun Lokoro, a 1,500m runner who, originally a farmer, escaped from war-torn South Sudan and has been camping in Kenya's capital city Nairobi.
"When you, the IOC Refugee Olympic Team and the athletes from the National Olympic Committees from all over the globe, finally come together in Tokyo on 23 July, it will send a powerful message of solidarity, resilience and hope to the world. You are an integral part of our Olympic community, and we welcome you with open arms," said Bach.
Hailed as a milestone for the Tokyo Olympics, the Australian softball squad landed in Japan on June 1, becoming the earliest group of competitors to arrive for the Games.
"We haven't been there for 13 years, so there's a lot of people behind me who have waited a long time to get that opportunity," player Jade Wall said.
Softball returned to the Olympic program at Beijing 2008 before it was excluded in 2012 and 2016. As it is, again, not part of the 2024 Games, Tokyo might be the last hope for some athletes.
With a record number of events and disciplines on show, Tokyo 2020 will be able to make history.
And, maybe more importantly, just as Bach has put it on several occasions, the 2020 Games can be the light at the end of the tunnel.
"The Games are going to be the first global event after the global pandemic," said Masa Takaya.
"After the closing of the party...we should be able to find the big feeling of the spirit of solidarity among people around the world. And when we see it, that's going to be the element for a big success," he added.
(Video reporter: Deng Min; Video editor: Zhao Yuchao)
Produced by Xinhua Global Service