TOKYO, Japan– Uncertainty
over Russia’s participation for the third consecutive Olympics and concerns
over the heat hang heavy over Tokyo 2020 preparations, with only six months
until the opening ceremony.
The Japanese capital has avoided many of the crises that
dogged previous Games — International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas
Bach said the city is the best prepared host city he has seen, with facilities
complete well ahead of schedule and tickets massively oversubscribed.
But elements largely out of organisers’ control have
overshadowed the run-up to the 2020 Games, the second time they will have been
held in Tokyo after 1964, when a post-war Japan wowed the world with its
technological prowess and economic “miracle”.
Chief among these is whether Russian athletes will compete
after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) imposed a four-year ban from
international sporting events over what it views as a state-sponsored doping
Moscow has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport
(CAS), but sources have told AFP a decision is not expected before May, just
weeks before the Games open on July 24.
Bach has urged CAS, the world’s highest sports court, to
give a decision that “does not leave room for any kind of
interpretation”, warning of “real, total confusion” if the
ruling is not watertight.
Russia’s up-in-the-air participation follows confusion at
the Rio Games, where the IOC allowed individual federations to decide whether
to permit athletes to compete.
At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the IOC barred
the Russian Olympic Committee but allowed clean Russian athletes to take part
as neutral competitors.
– ‘Decision without agreement’ –
Even less predictable than Russian participation is the
Tokyo weather, which has resulted in the unprecedented moving of the marathon
from the host city over safety concerns.
In 1964, the Games were held in October to avoid the hot and
humid Tokyo summer where the temperatures can exceed 40 Celsius (104
But athletes in 2020 will have no such respite, with some
doctors warning there could be deadly emergencies, and concerns have been
raised for volunteers, spectators and the competitors.
Test events last summer gave organisers a taste of what
could be to come. A French triathlete was hospitalised with suspected
heatstroke and several spectators were taken ill at a rowing event.
Tokyo 2020 has rolled out a series of measures designed to
counter the heat, including artificial snow, cooling mist sprays, paper fans
and towels to cool the neck.
Events have been brought forward earlier to avoid the
burning afternoon sun but the most extraordinary change was shifting the
marathon and race walk 800 kilometres (500 miles) north to Sapporo on the
island of Hokkaido.
The move, which apparently caught Tokyo officials off guard
when it was announced by the IOC, sparked fury in the capital, with city mayor
Yuriko Koike describing it as “a decision without an agreement”.
Kazunori Asaba — training chief of the Japan Association of
Athletics Federations — went further. “It’s like the athletes who had
been training for many years to climb Everest were told just nine months before
they would go to a different mountain,” he said.
– ‘We’re not complacent’ –
Tokyo officials are also carrying out drills in case of
natural disaster in one of the world’s most active seismic regions, which also
gets battered by several typhoons each year.
Last year’s Rugby World Cup was affected by the huge Typhoon
Hagibis, which forced the cancellation of three matches.
With six months to go, excitement is building and nearly
60,000 fans packed out the new National Stadium for its opening to see
three-time 100m sprint gold medallist Usain Bolt trot around the track.
Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto, who represented Japan at
seven Olympic Games as a speed skater and cyclist, said the country would stop
at nothing to pull off a spectacular show.
“Last week I was in Lausanne, where President Bach
again complimented our preparations. But we’re not complacent. We will do
everything possible, I will do my best as a minister, to make the Games a
success,” she told reporters.