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Tokyo on track for 2020 Olympics

V Krishnaswamy | Updated on November 08, 2019 Published on November 08, 2019

Book my race: Over 3.2 million tickets were sold in the first ballot for the Games   -  REUTERS

The meticulous Japanese have been assiduously planning for the 2020 Olympic Games. Preparations are well ahead of schedule, but some heated debates continue

You can’t miss the two magical characters — one in blue, the other in pink — when you land in Tokyo. Miraitowa and Someity are, respectively, the official mascots of the Olympics and Paralympics, both being held in Tokyo in the summer of 2020.

Souvenir booths set up across the city sell caps, mugs and other mementos embossed with the faces of these mascots. But while there is calm all around — as you would expect in Japan’s Capital — the city’s people have also been engaged in heated debates.

What’s evoked considerable heat — literally — is the Olympic marathon. Traditionally, the marathon at all major Games is routed through the landmarks of the city in which it is held. The people of Tokyo had hoped for that, eager for the world to see how Japan had moved on since the 1964 Summer Olympics.

But the International Olympic Committee (IOC), claiming that the heat in Tokyo could adversely affect the athletes, shifted the marathon to Sapporo in Hokkaido, 800km away from Tokyo, and the local organising committee could do little about it.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike has not hidden her displeasure at the move and spoken against it. There is widespread concern over the IOC forcing decisions on the local committee.

There’s consternation over golf as well, Japan’s favourite language binding sport and commerce. Japanese politician Shigefumi Matsuzawa, a member of the House of Councillors, has written to IOC president Thomas Bach that the temperatures at the golf venue could be four degrees higher during the Games. He foresees health problems for players, fans, volunteers and spectators at the course in Kawagoe City in Saitama, where the Kasumigaseki Golf and Country Club is located. This is the hottest place in Japan.

Matsuzawa wants golf to be moved to the Wakasu Golf Links in Tokyo Bay or the central mountain regions of Hakone and Nagano.

If the marathon could be shifted to Sapporo, could a new course also be chosen for golf? Residents — and others — are wondering if a new course would get ready in time for the games, and who would foot the bill. Also, is it fair that participants and spectators will have to pay extra to travel from city to city for different sports? And, finally, is it fair for the people of Tokyo, and those living close to the golf course? They will not get to see two of their favourite events, even though their city hosts the Games.

Despite the worries, Japan is on the fast track. As a whole, it is ahead of schedule for the Games. For over six years since the Games were awarded to them, the meticulous Japanese have planned them assiduously, prompting critics and supporters alike to admit that seldom, if ever, has a host been as well prepared as the Japanese.

In an age where a threat could come from any unexpected source, security has become paramount at the Olympics, which attract more attention than any other sporting event. Tokyo 2020, expectedly, is using all advanced technology it has at its disposal to bolster security at the venues. Perimeter patrols apart, spectators will be checked at Pedestrian Screening Areas even before the turnstiles and standard ticket checks.

It is learnt that athletes, the media and sponsors, guests and others will undergo facial recognition tests at accreditation checkpoints before they proceed to the screening area. This will be done through ID chips to confirm identities. The vehicles, too, will have these screening areas.

Though there will be multiple levels of security, the Japanese plan to make it as unobtrusive as possible, so as to not take away from the fun of the Games.

The Narita Airport, where most of the visitors will land, has a busy rail station, a mall open to all and a full-fledged airport. Yet there is an amazing ease of movement. People are politely guided if they make a wrong turn, and are never left with the feeling of being watched or monitored. But they are!

A vital part to securing the Games is a crackdown on tickets obtained fraudulently. Almost 7,000 tickets bought using fake IDs (a method adopted by many to improve chances of getting tickets that are sold in a lottery) have already been invalidated. The Organising Committee, in a recent briefing, said it had unearthed 30,000 fake IDs.

It said over 3.2 million tickets were sold in the first ballot, with more than 7.5 million Japanese entering the lottery. Nearly 350,000 were bought up in a second lottery in August and a third one could happen soon. Most of the tickets sold so far have been for early rounds, matches and qualifying competitions.

Meanwhile, of the seven venues planned for the Tokyo Bay, five have been completed. The Ariake Arena and Tokyo Aquatics Centre will be ready by the end of the year and early-2020 respectively.

Japan’s Rail system, which is its lifeline, is being readied to take on a huge influx of visitors.

At the World Press Briefing Day, a traditional “one-year-to-go” meeting, Katsura Enyo, the deputy director-general for the Bureau of Tokyo 2020 Games Preparation, pointed out that the Rugby World Cup — held in Japan — had brought immense excitement to the country. “It is just one sport,” she said at the briefing in mid-October. “I am so looking forward to welcoming you all back next year, when we will have the best Games ever."

The world is waiting.

V Krishnaswamy, a freelance writer and consultant, has covered the last seven Olympic Games

Published on November 08, 2019
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