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Tokyo Olympic postponement: How Japanese and rest of the world react?

13:51 | 25/03/2020

The one-year postponement of Tokyo Olympic 2020, which is scheduled to take place in Japan this summer after years of preparation has been quite a let-down for Japanese citizens, yet many said they understood the move in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, athletes, national associations and sporting federations from around the world reacted with sadness, relief and mainly goodwill.

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The postponement is unprecedented since 1948. (Photo: Reuters)

Japanese feel disappointed but understanding

Tokyo’s famous Shibuya crossing was thronged with late-night crowds of young people following the announcement, as Japan has not been subject to the same movement restrictions imposed on much of the rest of the world.

Earlier in the day in a joint statement, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the games, initially scheduled to start on July 24 this year, will now take place “not later than summer 2021.

With only four months to go until the Opening Ceremony was due to begin, the Japanese capital was already decked with posters and fliers, and tickets were massively oversubscribed by its residents.

But opinion polls in the past week have shown people increasingly under the belief that the Games could not be held, as the world grappled with a virus that has killed more than 18,000 people and put a third of the world on lockdown.

At Shibuya crossing, Momoko Doku, an IT engineer, stressed that the health of the athletes should take priority.

“It is disappointing for sure, but when you think about the health of athletes as well as spectators, I understand. The new coronavirus is spreading so fast in the world, and this is a very serious issue internationally,” he said.

For Shunsuke Kitamoto, who boxes at his local university club, the disappointment was all the more crushing as he had planned to be one of the tens of thousands of volunteers to guide fans from all over the world around the megacity.

“I was very much looking forward to seeing matches and being part of the games as a volunteer. So it is disappointing,” Kitamoto said.

However, he saw a silver lining in the fact the games were being postponed rather than scrapped altogether as some had feared.

Sachie Tojo said the news had come as a “real surprise” and that it was “disappointing as a Tokyo citizen because I was really looking forward to it.”

But he, too, said the welfare of athletes was paramount.

“I also want the Games to be hosted in a good environment for athletes, so I understand,” he added.

Kenji Tsujimura, a 26-year-old office worker from Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, who was visiting Odaiba Marine Park in the capital’s Minato Ward with his girlfriend, called the decision “wise,” but added: “I want them to show why they opted to put off the Olympics by about one year,” noting that Japan would come under international criticism if the games are postponed again.

Volunteers for the Paralympic Games, meanwhile, said the postponement will provide extra time for preparing barrier-free access to venues and transportation.

“I’m relieved,” said Eriko Kawahata, a 54-year-old Tokyo resident in a wheelchair who planned to support the events as a volunteer. The spread of the coronavirus has raised health concerns for people with disabilities, she said.

“I was afraid myself and other athletes with disabilities would have more severe symptoms if we get infected,” Kawahata said. “I hope the games will be held in a way that athletes and staff can give their fullest without worries.”

tokyo olympic postponement how japanese and rest of the world react
People are seen wearing face masks outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, which carries the logo of the 2020 Olympic Games. (Photo: Getty Images)

Masayoshi Imanishi, an official at Japan National Assembly of Disabled Peoples’ International, also voiced hope that the additional time could alleviate lingering concerns.

“We hope further improvements will be made at facilities, public transportation and venues by reflecting more opinions of Paralympic athletes and other people with disabilities,” he said.

Organizers will also need to make preparations to secure some 80,000 volunteers all over again.

“Depending on the new dates, I may not be able to participate. It’s disappointing that my summer plans are now completely gone,” said Misaki Kon, a 19-year-old university student in Kanagawa Prefecture who planned to participate as a volunteer.

Ticket holders, meanwhile, are worried.

“Will my tickets become completely useless or will I have some kind of priority rights?” said a 43-year-old woman in Saitama Prefecture who got tickets for basketball and soccer matches at a venue close to her home.

The Asahi Shimbun daily, quoting an official with the games, reported earlier this month that, according to the organizing committee’s terms and conditions of ticket purchase, cancellation would mean no refund. However, it remains unclear what happens now that they have been postponed.

The Olympics, which has experienced boycotts, terrorist attacks and protests, but has been held every four years since 1948, is the highest-profile event affected by the virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has forced the postponement or cancellation of sports competitions worldwide.
tokyo olympic postponement how japanese and rest of the world react

The giant Olympic rings are seen in the dusk at the waterfront area at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Japan, on March 22, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)

Meanwhile, the world shows various reactions toward the postponement of the long-awaited event.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach agreed the event would be rescheduled for the summer of 2021 at the latest. “This Olympic flame will be the light at the end of the tunnel.”

“The health and well-being of human life must always be our number one priority and staging a sport event of any kind during this pandemic is simply not possible. Sport is not the most important thing right now, preserving human life is”, said International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons.

“This summer was supposed to be a culmination of your hard work and life’s dream, but taking a step back from competition to care for our communities and each other is the right thing to do. Your moment will wait until we can gather again safely”, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic CEO Sarah Hirshland claimed.

"It is with profound sadness that we accept the postponement, but in all consciousness,it is the only decision we can support, in light of the devastating impact (of) COVID-19", Andy Anson, CEO British Olympic Association (BOA) reacted.

American long-distance runner Jake Rile who secures a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has shared his thoughts on Instagram upon the postponement of the event.

tokyo olympic postponement how japanese and rest of the world react
Jake Rile shared on his Instagram (Captured photo)

Kate Courtney is a professional mountain bike racer for the Scott-SRAM MTB Racing Team. Kate is the 2019 Elite XCO World Cup Overall Champion, the current Pan American Champion and the 2018 Elite XCO World Champion. On her Instagram profile, she expressed that her dream for sport will always stay regardless of this year postponement.

tokyo olympic postponement how japanese and rest of the world react
Kate's Instagram post (Captured photo)
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Japan Times/ Reuters/ Los Angeles Times