by Philbert Ono, Tokyo, Japan
Updated: Oct. 1, 2020
As of 1 Year to Go until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in summer 2021, this article is a summary of how things have progressed and how things stand since the postponement of Tokyo 2020. A written snapshot reflecting the current times 1 year before the Games. It might be a good reference for Olympic history researchers in the future. We are witnessing an unprecedented, historic development in Olympics and sports history. It’s been very interesting to observe the dynamics of everyone and everything. It’s certainly been a test of our resilience and patience and an exhibit of our shortcomings and weaknesses. It has also been divisive between people who are optimistic vs. those who remain doubtful or pessimistic about the Games. Whatever happens in the end, it will be historic.
Tokyo 2020 Timeline Since Postponement
It’s a massive job to re-plan and rearrange a postponed Olympics & Paralympics. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like. TOCOG has taken a few major shortcuts though, by keeping the original dates and competition schedule intact even in 2021. This was made possible by securing all the original venues. Several years worth of work didn’t go to waste. The next stage is to defray the huge postponement costs (“simplifying” the Games) and integrate coronavirus safety measures. The key Japanese words have been “anzen” (safety) and “anshin” (ease of mind). Many hurdles big and small still to overcome and the devil is always in the details.
March 1: Tokyo Marathon 2020 is held only for elite runners (less than 200 men and women). The remaining 37,500 runners selected by lottery from the public had to cancel their run. It was also a Japanese Olympic qualifier for the third and final berth for the Olympic men’s marathon (claimed by top Japanese runner Suguru Osako). Out of 11,000 marathon volunteers, only 900 volunteer group leaders went on duty. The extra volunteer uniforms donated to healthcare workers.
March 2 to mid-April: The 80,000 Games volunteers (Field Cast) receive their volunteer roles. About 700 kinds of volunteer jobs at over 100 locations (including training venues) were offered. Almost all volunteers accepted their roles.
March 2: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe orders Japanese public schools to close until the end of spring vacation in early April. School teachers and parents are caught off guard and struggle to cope, especially working parents with young kids at home all day.
March 11: WHO declares COVID-19 as a pandemic. As of this date, Japan had 1,330 COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths.
March: Athletes around the world have difficulty training due to closed facilities and lockdowns. Some Olympic athletes, sports federations, and NOCs complain to the IOC or threaten to pull out of the Games.
March 12: Olympic flame is lit in Greece.
March 14: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe states that he wants the Olympics to be held as planned.
March 20: Olympic flame arrives in Japan (Matsushima Air Base, Miyagi) from Greece in a special chartered plane on a windy day. The Olympic flame (open flame) is then displayed to the public for a few days in Tohoku (Ishinomaki, Sendai, Iwate, and Fukushima) during March 20–25. Huge crowds turn up to see the flame, alarming officials on social distancing. The flame is then kept hidden in multiple lanterns in top secret locations in Tokyo until Sept. 1, 2020 when it was displayed at the Japan Olympic Museum.
March 24, 2020: Japan and the IOC agree to postpone Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics to 2021. Exact dates still undecided. Lots of speculation over whether it would be better to hold the Games in spring (cooler than summer, but less preparation time) or autumn like in 1964 (cooler, but conflicts with other sporting events). Olympic torch relay scheduled to start on March 26 canceled for 2020. Tokyo 2020 ticket sales in Japan are suspended. Further construction of temporary facilities at venues (such as Tsurigasaki Beach and Aomi Urban Sports Park) also suspended. Scheduled training for Games volunteers is postponed to 2021.
March 26: TOCOG forms a new committee named “Tokyo 2020 New Launch Task Force” to steer the planning of the postponed Games. Official notice informs Tokyo 2020 volunteers that they will be retained for 2021 unless they withdraw on their own. Similar notice also received by paid temporary staff.
March 30: Tokyo 2020 dates for 2021 announced. Olympics to be held on July 23–August 8, 2021 and Paralympics on August 24–September 5, 2021. The “Tokyo 2020” name to be retained in 2021, so all official merchandise, medals, mascots, uniforms, ads, bibs, etc., remain usable.
March: All remaining 18 Olympic/Paralympic test events in 2020 canceled.
Late March: Besides toilet paper and sanitary goods, panic buying of food ensues in Tokyo due to an imminent stay-at-home order. No rice, no bread, no meat, no instant noodles, no bananas, no fresh vegetables. (TMG neglects to mention that any stay-at-home order would still allow people to go grocery shopping.)
April 7: Due to increasing COVID-19 cases, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finally declares a “State of Emergency” until May 6 for seven prefectures: Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Osaka, Hyogo, and Fukuoka. (Later expanded nationwide on April 16.)
April 8: In Tokyo, the National Training Center where Olympians train is closed. (Reopened in May.)
April 16: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expands the “State of Emergency” nationwide until May 6. (Later extended to May 31.)
April: Japanese doctors say that holding the Games would be difficult without a vaccine. Thanks to more negative, sensational, exaggerated, and misleading news headlines, doom and gloom among the public start to spread.
April 20: TOCOG forces the IOC to delete a statement from the IOC website saying “Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo agreed that Japan will continue to cover the costs…” with regard to the postponement costs. TOCOG claimed that no agreement had been reached as to who would cover the cost.
April 22: TOCOG reports its first case of an employee infected with COVID-19. Male worker in his 30s. The floor where he worked was evacuated for disinfection. Two more got infected in Aug., and a fourth employee (male) got infected in early Sept. 2020.
April 29: John Coates, the head of the Tokyo 2020 Coordination Commission, states that holding the Games will not be dependent on whether or not there is a vaccine.
May 7: Prime Minister Abe extends the “State of Emergency” to May 31.
May: IOC Coordination Commission head John Coates implies that Oct. will be when they make the decision to hold or cancel the Games.
May 20: In an interview with the BBC in the UK, Thomas Bach admits that if the Games cannot be held in 2021, it would have to be canceled and not postponed again. (As earlier stated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.)
May 25: State of Emergency is lifted for all prefectures, before the planned May 31 date.
May 27: In Tokyo, the National Training Center reopens to allow Olympic athletes to train again. However, due to social distancing, fewer athletes are allowed in the facility at one time, and they cannot train as much as before.
June 5: TOCOG Vice President Toshiaki Endo states that the decision to hold or cancel the Games can wait until spring 2021 when Olympic qualifiers are held. Critics say that any decision to cancel the Games should be made by the end of the year to save costs.
June 10: IOC and TOCOG hold their joint and separate executive meetings. TOCOG announces the Roadmap to 2021 Summer. TOCOG Chairman Yoshiro Mori reiterates, “Cancellation is not even up for discussion.”
June 12: Kohzo Tashima, the head of the Japan Football (Soccer) Association (who got infected and recovered from COVID-19), stated that the Tokyo 2020 schedule for men’s and women’s soccer/football matches would remain the same. All the football venues were apparently secured for 2021. The first sign that progress was being made for getting the venues and setting the competition schedule.
June 16: Prominent TOCOG executive Haruyuki Takahashi states that postponing the Games again to 2022 should also be an option. This statement was soon dismissed by TOCOG CEO Toshiro Muto as being only a personal opinion and not reflective of TOCOG.
June 16: IOC announces the results of a survey conducted in May 2020 targeting athletes in 135 countries and regions. Of the 4,089 athletes who replied, half said that maintaining their motivation was the biggest problem for them.
June: NHK reported 65% of domestic Olympic sponsors were still undecided on whether to continue being a sponsor for another year. This survey was actually unfair because it was conducted before TOCOG started negotiations with sponsors to extend the sponsorship. The sponsors still didn’t know how much it would cost to extend the sponsorship. So naturally most of them could not make any decision at that point.
June 19: Pro sports in Japan are allowed again, but without spectators. Pro baseball restarts in Japan with no spectators. Non-sporting events allow a maximum of 1,000 people in the audience or no more than half capacity of the indoor venue. Close-contact businesses (karaoke, etc.) are allowed to reopen. People allowed to travel between prefectures.
June 23: Japan Olympic Museum near the Olympic Stadium reopens after being closed since Feb. 27. Online reservations (max. 5 people per reservation) are now required and the number of visitors limited to 60 people per 30 min.
June 27: J.League pro soccer/football restarts in Japan (J1 league on July 4) with no spectators.
June 30: For the first time in Japan, clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine starts with healthcare workers in Osaka. They hope the vaccine will become available between spring and autumn 2021.
July 1: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea reopen after being closed since February 29.
July 5: Pro-Olympics Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike re-elected in a landslide for another four years, crushing her 21 opponents who favored Tokyo 2020 cancelation or another postponement. She received many more votes than all the other 21 candidates combined. Her massive victory (3,661,371 votes) meant that most Tokyo residents want the Olympics to happen.
July 8: Based on a news leak from unofficial sources, NHK gives a stunning report that TOCOG managed to secure all venues for 2021.
July 10: Spectators allowed in pro sports venues in Japan, but no more than 5,000 or half the stadium capacity, whichever is less. (In effect at least until late Sept. 2020.) For fans entering the stadium, masks, temperature check, and hand sanitizer required. Fans sit with several empty seats in-between. Spectators discouraged from loud cheering, singing (the team song), whistling, making noise (drums, etc.), high fiving, standing up, linking up arm-in-arm, and releasing balloons. They are only allowed to cheer in a normal voice, clap, and wave. No alcohol served in stadiums.
July 17: In a major announcement, TOCOG states that all venues have been secured for 2021 and the Olympics competition schedule has been set for 2021. The new competition schedule is basically the same as the original one except for some events having a slight change in the start/end times. Such adjustments were made to make operations and transportation easier. The men’s and women’s marathons and race walks remain in Sapporo. The victory bouquet ceremony for these events are to be held in Sapporo, but for the first time in Olympic history, the medal ceremonies are to be held during the Closing Ceremony in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.
July 20: As of July 20, 2020, out of 166 vaccine candidates in the world, at least 24 of them are undergoing clinical trials. Three (one each in the UK, US, and China) are in Phase III clinical trials. (According to WHO.)
July 22: Tokyo Skytree (Tobu Tower Skytree Co., Ltd.) becomes a new Olympic Official Supporter.
July 23: To mark the Olympics’ “1 Year to Go” day, a short livestream media event (non-public) was held in the Olympic Stadium with swimmer Rikako Ikee giving a short, encouraging speech mixed with a short video. Ariake Arena, Aquatics Centre, Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, and Tokyo Skytree were also lit up in the five Olympic colors from 8 pm.
July: TOCOG starts negotiating with domestic Tokyo 2020 sponsors to extend their sponsorship (expiring on Dec. 31, 2020) for another year.
July: Sports volunteers for Japanese pro soccer teams start working again at games, but fewer than usual. They mainly check tickets, pass out programs to spectators, work at the information desks, and clean up the spectator stands after the game.
Aug. 3: Paralympics competition schedule for 2021 announced. Almost the same as the original schedule for 2020.
Early Aug. 2020: Japanese government announces that it signed vaccine supply agreements with Pfizer (USA) and AstraZeneca (UK) in case either develops an effective vaccine.
Aug. 6: The giant Olympic rings decorating Odaiba is hauled away by boat to Yokohama for maintenance. They will return by the end of the year.
Aug.: Due to the lack of an Olympics mood and less demand for non-essential goods during the pandemic, sales of official Tokyo 2020 merchandise drop dramatically. Six Tokyo 2020 official shops (Ginza, Shinjuku East, Ueno, Shibuya, Yokohama East, and Shinsaibashi Shops) already closed. Seventeen smaller stores closed in Aug. The stores at Narita and Haneda Airports are closed temporarily. The remaining 63 shops all over Japan remain open along with the online shop. As of late June 2020, about 6,360 officially licensed Tokyo 2020 merchandise are for sale.
Aug. 19: It was reported that the torch relay schedule will remain the same (121 days) and not shortened since it would not reduce the cost much.
Aug. 23: Japan’s top track stars compete for the first time in the new Olympic Stadium in the Seiko Golden Grand Prix 2020 Tokyo. Yoshihide Kiryu wins the 100-meter sprint in 10.14 sec. narrowly beating Aska Cambridge.
Aug. 28: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Tokyo 2020 Supreme Advisor/Chairperson) announces his resignation as prime minister due to health reasons. His Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga emerges in early Sept. as the frontrunner to succeed him.
Sept. 1 to Nov. 1: Olympic flame displayed in a lantern at the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo.
Sept. 4: Representatives of the Japanese government ministries, TMG, TOCOG, etc., start meeting to discuss coronavirus safety measures for Tokyo 2020. Issues include how to allow overseas visitors entry to Japan, testing, medical operations, and venue operations. The committee to be headed by the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita. Their coronavirus safety measures, to maximize safety and ease anxiety, to be announced by the end of the year. One major proposal is to allow Olympic/Paralympic athletes entry to Japan and not require a two-week quarantine period in Japan.
Sept. 7: Tokyo 2020 Coordination Commission chairman John Coates told Agence France-Presse in an interview that the Olympic Games will be held in 2021 with or without the coronavirus.
Sept. 14: Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election held to elect Yoshihide Suga who became Japan’s next prime minister.
Sept. 22: Thomas Bach expresses confidence that the Tokyo 2020 can be held safely.
Sept. 25: After a meeting between the IOC and TOCOG, some Tokyo 2020 minor cost-cutting measures announced.
Sept. 26: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declares that Tokyo 2020 will be the symbol of mankind’s victory over the coronavirus. And that Japan will do its utmost to ensure the safety of the Games.
Sept. 28: The schedule for the Olympic Torch relay in 2021 is announced, retaining the original schedule. The torch relay is to start on March 25 at Fukushima.
Sept.: Tokyo 2020 ticket refunds for Japan residents still unavailable.
Oct. 1: Taking over from Daichi Suzuki whose five-year term expired, Koji Murofushi is appointed as Japan Sports Agency Commissioner.
Oct.: General training for Games volunteers overseas to start online.
- “TOCOG” is Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
- “IOC” is International Olympic Committee.
- “IPC” is International Paralympic Committee.
- “TMG” is Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
- “NOC” is National Olympic Committee.