JAPANESE INSIST, ‘THE SHOW MUST GO ON’ DESPITE CORONAVIRUS

Japanese officials, not to mention spectators who have been lucky enough to land their hands on a much-coveted golden ticket to a live Olympic event, are fervently hoping that the show will go on.

Saori Asano, 25, who snagged tickets through a ballot to the men’s football final with her university friends, told The Straits Times: “I have been really looking forward to this event, and so I will be very disappointed if it is not going to happen.”

Tickets to the Tokyo Olympics, slated for July 24 to Aug 9, have been highly sought after.

There were over 100 million applications during the two phases of domestic ticket lottery for just 4.48 million tickets.

Referring to rising speculation that the Tokyo Olympics may be in jeopardy due to the unfolding coronavirus outbreak around the world, Asano, who works in communications, said: “This is a big lifetime event that Japan has been preparing to host for a long time.

“I’m sure the risk of cancelling the Olympics outweighs the risk of going ahead.”

Last Friday the term “chushi da chushi” (Just cancel it!) trended on Twitter, as a scene in an 1988 cyberpunk anime Akira seemed like it would prove prophetic.

The movie had famously predicted that Tokyo will host the Games in 2020, and in the scene, the phrase was scrawled in graffiti under a countdown timer with 147 days to go to the Games.

Last Friday marked precisely 147 days to the opening ceremony on July 24.

The last time the modern Games were scrapped was during World War II, and top Japanese officials at every level, including Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, have put on a brave face and vowed to continue preparations for the Games.

Still, Japan has no Plan B if it cannot proceed as planned, Katsura Enyo, deputy director general of the Tokyo 2020 Preparation Bureau at the city government, told Reuters.

“We are not even thinking of when or in what contingency we might decide things. There is no thought of change at all in my mind,” she said.

But Japan is considering downsizing its Olympic torch relay, which will flag off on March 26 in Fukushima and pass through all 47 prefectures.

Some qualifying tournaments have also either been rescheduled or, in the case of the Tokyo Marathon yesterday, scaled down and restricted only to elite athletes, while participants have been barred from entering and spectators urged not to line the streets.

The 1964 Tokyo Games showcased Japan’s rise from the ashes of World War II, and introduced the world to pioneering ideas like the shinkansen bullet train as well as pictographs that served to bridge the language barrier.

It has billed the Games this year as the “reconstruction Games” to showcase how it has recovered from the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, and in return anticipates a major economy and tourism fillip from the marquee sporting event.

Japan has already spent the majority of the estimated 1.35 trillion yen (S$17.4 billion) that the Games are estimated to cost.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) and the Tokyo Games Organising Committee will spend 600 billion yen each, while the national government will contribute 150 billion yen. The TMG is setting aside another 810 billion yen in “related costs”.

Japan has already built a raft of new facilities, including the 156.9 billion yen showpiece National Stadium, designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma, and the Ariake Arena in the Odaiba district, a 37 billion yen site that will host volleyball and wheelchair basketball during the Paralympics.

Any move to delay or cancel the Games will prove costly to the Japanese companies that have pitched in a record of more than US$3 billion in sponsorship deals, as well as international broadcasters.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach sought to put paid to speculation of the fate of the Games when he told reporters on Thursday: “We are fully committed to a successful Olympic Games in Tokyo starting July 24.”

Fellow IOC member Dick Pound had said last week that a decision would have to be made by May as to whether to proceed with the Tokyo Olympics this year, suggesting that it would be “not impossible” to shift the Games to 2021.

But he stressed: “Our plan is that unless the elephant in the room becomes ginormous, we’re going to open the Games on July 24.”

Tokyo resident Akiho Mishina, 26, who has tickets to watch equestrian events with her family, said there could be greater focus on prevention and hygiene, in case the coronavirus scare has not died down, and that in a worst-case scenario, “it might be rather comfortable to hold the event in autumn”.

-The Strait Times