TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee, who is battling back from leukaemia, provided a glimmer of hope for embattled Tokyo Olympics organisers during a sombre yet poignant ceremony to mark one year to go until the rearranged Games on Thursday.
The Olympics were due to begin on Friday with an extravagant opening ceremony in the National Stadium but the Games have instead been delayed until July 23, 2021 because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
A subdued 15-minute ceremony took place in an empty and dark National Stadium, where footage was shown to highlight next year’s Games.
Ikee, who won six titles at the 2018 Asian Games and was considered a strong medal contender for the Olympics before her illness, stood under a spotlight dressed in all white as she represented a figure of hope for Tokyo.
“Imagine the world a year from now,” she said while holding the Olympic flame in a lantern.
“How wonderful it will be to see the curtain raising on the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We are currently living in a world of ups and downs. I sincerely hope that the peace and calm of daily life returns as soon as possible.”
Various venues that will host Olympics events next year, including the newly-built Ariake Arena, were lit up in the Olympic colours to mark the occasion.
Last year, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach presided over a glitzy ceremony to mark the occasion in the Japanese capital and declared Tokyo the best prepared host city he had ever seen.
This time around the atmosphere was much more subdued and Thursday’s small ceremony is a sign of things to come in the lead-up to the Games next year.
“We have to prepare for multiple scenarios of the Games,” Bach told broadcaster Eurosport, the Games’ official broadcaster in Europe, on Thursday.
“We don’t know how the world will look like in one year. So we are preparing for all the different scenarios. The top priority is that these Olympic Games will only take place in a safe environment for everybody,” he said.
Asked whether the Games could go ahead even without fans, Bach said the organisation needed to adapt to the circumstances.
“In this world you have to adapt yourself. We are working to optimize the Games, to simplify the Games, to adapt it to the time we are living in. We are not living on a spacecraft, we are in the middle of the world society.”
The head of the IOC’s Coordination Commission John Coates has said rearranging the Games meant focusing on the “must haves” in a simplified event.
In response, Tokyo 2020 Chief Executive Toshiro Muto said over 200 simplification measures were under consideration. [M1L5N2ER2AO]
Thursday’s landmark comes as the Japanese capital reported 366 new coronavirus cases, a new daily record, fuelling fears of a second round of infections.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant and Akira Tomoshige; Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, writing by Jack Tarrant; editing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)