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  • OpEd - Tokyo Delivers Worry-Free Olympics


    (ATR) I cannot recall a Summer Olympics as worry-free as Tokyo with one year to go.

    The Olympic Stadium is now 90 percent complete. (Getty Images)
    For me, the counting begins in Barcelona, where I observed roadways that seemed years from completion. Atlanta came with its own feverish rush to finish. Sydney was calm, but Athens was filled with concerns. In Beijing we worried about traffic and human rights. London faced doubts on crowd management and security.

    Rio 2016 takes the gold medal for Olympic anxiety. Whether timely delivery of venues and infrastructure, the safety of spectators, or the stability of the Brazilian economy and government, there was plenty of worry to go around.

    Things were already fraying in 2013 when the IOC selected the 2020 host. This wariness about Rio is believed to have turned IOC voters to the candidate city with the best reputation for delivering on a project as complex as the Olympics.

    Tokyo was the easy winner in two rounds; Madrid was eliminated in the first round. In the second round, Tokyo -- promising to deliver the Games with a “safe pair of hands” --smashed Istanbul 60 to 36.

    Six years later, Tokyo organizers appear to be delivering on that pledge.

    As the year-to-go mark hits the calendar, anxiety over last minute construction is absent. The two biggest projects -- the new National Stadium and the Olympic Village -- are close to completion.

    We are not breaking into a sweat about a furious rush to finish roads, subway lines or airport terminals. Tokyo came equipped with infrastructure to support an Olympics.

    But there is worry about literal sweat. Mitigating heat, preventing injury and illness during the height of the Japanese summer has taken over construction as the last-minute worry for the Tokyo Olympics. Cooling systems, a dawn start to the marathon and other steps are being taken to lessen risks.

    Traffic, too, is still a concern. But whether Barcelona or Beijing, it always seems to work in the end, one way or the other. And consider this: Atlanta and Sydney -- probably two of the most transit-savvy host cities -- both experienced transport jitters as the Games began.

    Yes, Tokyo will cost billions more than first forecast. But instead of ignoring the rising tide, the IOC, organizing committee and government dived in to reverse the flow. The budget triage began four years ago, before it was too late. In Rio, when it came time to host
    Tokyo mascots Miraitowa and Someity. (ATR)
    the Paralympics, the coffers were bare,

    And unlike most other Olympic hosts, Tokyo should not be encumbered with useless venues post-Games. The budget axe for Tokyo fell heaviest on plans to construct new venues, favoring existing venues. While that may not equate to a compact venue plan, it means that sustainability may truly be playing a role in the Games of the future.

    Word has come this week that newly-installed Emperor Naruhito will be the honorary patron of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. While strictly a matter of protocol, the stability of the Imperial House, along with the more meaningful stability in both municipal and national governments, comes in sharp contrast to the train wreck in Rio four years ago.

    While a group of activists in Tokyo this week will launch new efforts to prevent the Olympics from taking place next year, their numbers are small.

    Record-setting ticket sales orders from Japan would seem to indicate broad commercial, if not public support for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

    We’re not sure about the strange mascots that represent the Tokyo Games. The blue one, Miraitowa is the Olympics mascot. The pink pal, for the Paralympics, is named Someity. Loaded with symbolism, the still don't fulfill my expectations of cuddly. Get used to them. They will be everywhere for the next year. 

    Mascots aside, without disaster looming Tokyo 2020 can take advantage of the final year like no other host city.

    Organizers can focus on the details of test events, dozens of which are ahead. The Olympic Torch relay next year should be a blazing path to opening ceremony. New sports for the Olympics like surfing, karate and skateboard will capture attention, instead of having to fight for the spotlight against pre-Games angst about budgets or deadlines.

    ATR Editor Ed Hula in Tokyo. (ATR)
    We can debate the mascots instead of the host country’s human rights policies.

    Worry-free Olympics? Not possible, even in Japan.

    Dialing back the worry just enough to keep complacency in check?

    Tokyo writes the book.

    Written by Ed Hula. For general comments or questions, click here.
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