BY RYUSEI TAKAHASHI
With the world’s biggest sporting events less than a year away, organizers on Wednesday celebrated the start of a yearlong countdown to the opening ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach commending the progress Tokyo has made in preparing for the event.
“The preparations are making excellent progress” said IOC President Bach. “I can truly say I have never seen an Olympic city as prepared as Tokyo with one year to go before the Olympic Games.”
The executive members of the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Organizing Committee, along with guests including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, were among those who gathered at Tokyo International Forum to celebrate the milestone and reflect on the progress made in the planning of the 2020 Games.
Interactive demonstrations were also held throughout the day allowing Tokyo residents to experience Olympic sports. Tokyo 2020 also unveiled the Olympic medal designs Wednesday.
“One year from now, Japan will make history,” Bach said. “The eyes of the world will be on Japan. Your rich history and traditions, your cutting-edge innovation, your culture of hospitality and, of course, your love and passion for sport.”
Construction for five out of 10 national arenas for the 2020 Games has been completed, the organizers said, with construction for the last one — the Tokyo Aquatics Center — set to be complete by February 2020. Starting this month, test events have been launched to prepare for each sport.
“The Olympics brings the world together and it affords equal opportunities to all, and that is what sports is all about,” said Abe during a kickoff ceremony Wednesday afternoon, adding that the success of the Tokyo 2020 Games won’t be realized if it doesn’t lead to the recovery of the disaster areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011.
“We suffered enormous damage,” Abe said. “We want to communicate our message of gratitude to those who supported us and continue to do so. We are still in the process of rebuilding.”
The 2020 Olympic Games will begin with the July 24 opening ceremony and end with the closing ceremony on Aug. 9, between which 11,090 athletes will compete for 339 gold medals across 33 sports including five additional selections: baseball and softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing. During the Paralympic Games — to be held from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6 — 4,400 athletes will compete for 540 medals across 22 sports including, for the first time, taekwondo and badminton.
The Olympic torch relay will start March 26 from J-Village in Fukushima Prefecture and will travel through all of the country’s 47 prefectures during the course of 121 days.
More than 3.2 million tickets for the events were sold in a lottery during the first stage of domestic sales in June, after more than 7.5 million people registered for the lottery. Due to the unprecedented interest in ticket sales, Tokyo 2020 said there may be an additional lottery to be held in August for Japanese residents who did not win any tickets in the first lottery round. A first-come-first-served basis sale for those living in Japan will commence in autumn. For worldwide audiences, Tokyo 2020 will commence a third wave of ticket sales on a first-come-first-served basis in spring 2020.
About 7.8 million tickets are available for the 2020 games, the majority of which is expected to go to the domestic population.
Tokyo 2020 announced Monday that Emperor Naruhito will assume the role of Honorary Patron to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, following the organizing committee’s formal request through the national government. The appointment will extend from Wednesday until the closing day of the Paralympic Games.
“In the fragile times we are living in, the Olympic Games are the only event that brings the entire world together in a peaceful competition,” IOC President Bach said during a progress report on the current state of preparations for the 2020 Games.
“These are Olympic Games for the world, organized by Japan and by an all-star all-Japan team,” Bach said. “With this Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 you will see all of Japan united, not only for the games, not only by the games, but also through the games and for the entire Japanese society at large.”