Masked and muted Olympics will still dominate crowded 2021 in sports

PARIS (AFP) – The rescheduled Tokyo Olympics will be the centrepiece of a crammed sporting year in 2021 as sports administrators who had their calendars wiped away by the coronavirus pandemic try to fill the gaps even as a second wave hits.

While the Games will still be called the 2020 Olympics, they have been changed by Covid-19.

Tokyo organisers and the Japanese government are struggling with increased costs and, despite the growing possibility of vaccination, whether to allow foreign visitors and what safeguards and restrictions will apply to spectators and participants.

In early December, organisers said the delayed Games will cost at least an extra USD2.4 billion as the unprecedented peacetime postponement and a raft of pandemic health measures inflate a budget that was already over USD13 billion.

Enthusiasm appears to have waned in Japan. A poll in July showed that just one in four people wanted to see the Games held in 2021 – and a majority backed either further delay or cancellation.

“Whether it’s seen as too much or that we have done well to contain the costs, I think it depends on how you look at it,” said Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto.

Organisers have reduced the number of free tickets, scaled down the opening ceremony and made savings on mascots, banners and meals, but so far have cut just USD280 million.

“It will be simple rather than festive, but I hope it will be something moving that encourages people through the power of sport,” he said.

The organisers are determined to go ahead next year, even if the pandemic has not receded.

They want to welcome foreign spectators and plan to waive quarantine requirements.

They plan to require fans to wear masks, to refrain from cheering and keep their ticket stubs for contact tracing.

Athletes will be asked to arrive late and leave early, minimise their time in the Olympic village, refrain from speaking loudly, avoid physical contact and wear masks when not competing or training. They will be screened on arrival and undergo tests every four to five days.

“I think the Games will go off,” World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said this month.

“What nobody is clearly across, is whether we are going to have a stadium populated by good, noisy, passionate fans.”