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  • OpEd: Two Years Out, Tokyo 2020 Keeping Its Promise


    (ATR) When Tokyo bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics it promised “a safe pair of hands” to the IOC.

    ATR Editor Ed Hula in Tokyo with a TV news crew (ATR)
    With two years to go, it appears to be keeping that promise.

    Compared to the most recent host cities, these final two years in Tokyo may be the most tranquil preamble to the Olympics in a long time.

    When I think of what it was like in Rio de Janeiro at this time in 2014, I had my doubts.

    At two years to go, Rio was still a construction zone from one end of the city to another.

    In Tokyo today, the National Stadium and Olympic Village are the two megaprojects still to be completed. It is a miniscule amount of work compared to Rio, London and Beijing at the same stage. The venue legacies of the 1964 Olympics also help.

    Some transportation improvements are coming, but not the tunnels, bridges and track for new subway lines or superhighways needed by other Olympic cities.

    Sponsors, federations, even the IOC were worried about accommodations in Rio. There was a mad rush to complete new lodging in time for the Games. But that is not the case in Tokyo. The only anxiety might come from paying the bill at one of Tokyo’s fine hotels, which are among the world’s most expensive.

    The “safe pair of hands” philosophy has kept the leadership of Tokyo 2020 focused on spending only what is needed to host the Games. As difficult as it might have been to trim billions and billions of yen from the Olympic budget, Tokyo heads into the final two years without financial crisis.

    National Stadium under construction (ATR)
    Another $100 million in cuts are being considered. Opening the Olympic Village two days later than planned is among the seemingly sensible ideas on the table.

    In Rio, the IOC installed a top consultant in the city on a full-time basis to monitor what was becoming a very fitful final two years. By the time of the Olympics the Rio 2016 treasury was nearly empty. There wasn’t even enough money left to pay for the Paralympics.

    The chain of test events that are about to begin in Tokyo will deliver more proof of whether organizers are ready. An international regatta -- always the first test event for Summer Olympic cities – will draw hundreds of sailors in early September.

    The venue on Sagami Bay – an hour south of Tokyo -- was not the first choice. The original plan in 2013 called for a new and expensive marina close to the center of the city. Instead, a “safe pair of hands” guided sailing to Enoshima. Not only are the savings substantial, it’s where sailing was held in the 1964 Tokyo Games.

    As Rio prepared for its sailing test, news of the event was dominated by reports about the pollution in the bay. An unhealthy mix of sewage, debris and garbage floating off shore was an embarrassment for Rio, even with a stunning view of Sugar Loaf.

    There are no worries about a similar toxic stew at Enoshima.

    The venue won’t break the bank.

    And the view of Mount Fuji on a clear day will present a classic image of Japan to the world.

    Two years to go and happily counting.

    A Japanese version of this story was published in Mainichi Shimbun. Read it here.

    Written by Ed Hula

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