Japan’s media and athletes reacted with disappointment yesterday to the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but expressed relief the Games had not been cancelled altogether over the coronavirus pandemic.
The postponement, unprecedented in peacetime, came after heavy pressure from athletes around the world and followed an admission from Japan’s prime minister that a delay was now “inevitable”.
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But there was still shock and disappointment in Japan, where the Games have been promoted as the “Recovery Olympics”, intended to showcase reconstruction after the devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
The Nikkei business daily said Japan had avoided the worst-case scenario of a cancellation, but “it is like all the efforts of the last seven years are now back to square one”. “It is inevitable that huge additional costs will emerge,” it added.
The Tokyo Shimbun headlined its coverage “surprise and embarrassment”, but conceded in an article that the situation left organisers and Olympic officials with few options. “Choosing a one-year postponement was a decision taken by a process of elimination,” the paper said, with an Olympics this year seen as too risky and a longer delay to 2022 likely to be too expensive. The newspaper expressed disappointment with the way the IOC handled the decision, clinging for weeks to the line that the Games could still open as scheduled on July 24, before reversing course.
“We didn’t see the strong leadership that had been hoped for,” the paper said. Athletes in Japan said they were disappointed, but committed to training towards the rescheduled Games. “Honestly speaking, my mind is still spinning,” sports climber Akiyo Noguchi wrote in a post on her Instagram page. “But I’m taking it positively since I’ll be able to spend more time doing the sport I love,” added Noguchi, who plans to make the Tokyo Games her last Olympics. “I will spend the time I have been given to be stronger both physically and mentally,” she added. “For now, I hope the world will overcome this situation as soon as possible, and that the Olympics will be held in Tokyo.”
Jun Mizutani, the 30-year-old Japanese table tennis player who competed at the Beijing, London and Rio Games, reacted lightheartedly to the news, tweeting a digitally aged photo of himself with the message: “I can do it”. Athletes and sports associations around the world had pushed for the move given the effects the virus has had on everything from qualifiers to training, so the final decision was far from a shock. “We were ready as the mood for postponement was growing,” Toshihisa Tsuchihashi of the Japan Tennis Association told the Nikkan sports daily.
“I think it’s a wise decision. I guess players will have mixed feelings, but I believe they will reset and do their best. I’ll support them.” And Ichiro Hoshino, a senior director of the Japan Table Tennis Association, told the daily it had become clear that holding the Games this summer was impossible.
“But I also feel that it was good that it was not cancelled amid this serious situation,” he said. “I’d say it will be good for athletes as (the situation) has become a little more predictable.” Both the IOC and Japanese organisers and officials have insisted that cancellation is not on the table, with the goal now to hold the rescheduled Games by summer 2021 at the latest. Under the circumstances, wrote the conservative Sankei Shimbun daily, the decision of a one-year postponement was “the best scenario”.
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