The stripped-back Tokyo Games, held despite the ongoing pandemic, will highlight the Olympics’ “true values”, Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto said as organisers mark a month to go.
The Games will be unlike any other, with overseas fans banned and athletes kept away from the public. Competitors have had to leave their families behind and spectators will be capped at 10,000 people.
But former Olympian Hashimoto said the restrictions were a chance to look beyond the usual pomp and celebration that accompany the Games, and to focus on the sport.
“In recent years when I was participating as an athlete, there were concerns that this [event] has become so huge,” she told reporters.
“The Games tended to end with extreme excitement, but because of that the original meaning and values . . . were not fully communicated,” she added.
“This time, I feel that the true values of the Olympic and Paralympic Games are finally being discussed.”
Hashimoto is a seven-time Olympian who competed at both summer and winter Games, in speed skating and as a sprint cyclist.
She came to office after her predecessor, former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, resigned over a sexism row after he said women speak too much in meetings.
Hashimoto rejected the suggestion that the complications of Tokyo 2020 might put off future hosts, as Olympic officials face a dwindling number of cities eager for the expensive undertaking.
“I see this as one opportunity to present the essence of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and to change the format of the Games, so that other cities will be willing to hold the Games in the future,” she said.
It may not be a line that convinces everyone, with athletes facing tough restrictions including daily testing and a ban on travel except between venues and the Olympic Village.
Domestic opposition to the Games has softened in recent weeks, but around half of Japan’s public still don’t want the event to open in four weeks time, polls show.
On June 19, a Ugandan Olympic coach tested positive on arrival in Japan, despite the team reportedly being vaccinated and testing negative before travel.
Hashimoto said the fact that the case was detected “is evidence that border measures are extremely stringent”.
Officials will announce any infections during the Games “immediately”, she added, acknowledging that communication with the public had sometimes fallen short.
Even if it is safe, some wonder whether this year’s Games will be enjoyable, given rules including a ban on cheering at venues.
Hashimoto said athletes were just glad to be able to compete, and that spectators would have to think of others when attending the Games.
“The fact that people’s joy or excitement creates the risk of infection spreading is a point made by experts,” she said.
Hashimoto hoped spectators would honour a “culture of hospitality and caring about each other” to abide by virus rules.
“I hope such spirit of caring about each other, will become the legacy of the Games,” she added.