Joy, delay and torch relay: Tokyo's turbulent Olympic timeline

·4-min read

From the unprecedented coronavirus postponement to last week's decision to bar overseas spectators, the path to staging the Tokyo Olympics has been littered with obstacles.

As the nationwide torch relay begins, organisers are hoping it can build enthusiasm among a sceptical Japanese public ahead of the opening ceremony on July 23.

Here, AFP chronicles Tokyo's troubled journey from being named host city in September 2013 to the Olympic flame finally hitting the streets of Japan a year late on March 25, 2021:

- 2013: Tears and cheers -

News presenters shed tears and crowds erupt in delight as the International Olympic Committee names Tokyo host of the 2020 Games.

Thoughts turn to the victims of Japan's devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, with the Olympics seen as a chance to rebuild.

- 2015-16: Stadium and logo ditched -

Proposals for a new national stadium go back to the drawing board in July 2015 following public anger over the $2 billion price tag.

As the Games stumble from one problem to another, Kenjiro Sano's original Olympic logo design has to be ditched over its resemblance to the emblem of a Belgian theatre. Sano denies plagiarism.

The following year a new "snake-eye" logo for the Games is unveiled.

- 2019: Payments probe, marathon switch -

French magistrates charge the head of Japan's Olympic committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, as they probe payments totalling $2.3 million made before and after Tokyo's nomination.

Takeda protests his innocence but later steps down from the role.

In October, the IOC shifts the Olympic marathon to northern Sapporo to avoid the capital's sweltering summer heat -- a surprise move that infuriates Tokyo officials.

- March 24, 2020: Historic postponement -

With the coronavirus spreading rapidly worldwide, Japan and the IOC make the historic decision to postpone the Olympics.

A new date is announced for the opening ceremony -- July 23, 2021 -- but the event will still be called Tokyo 2020.

Organisers later insist that there is "no chance" the Games will be postponed for a second time.

- December 2020: Extra costs, new rules -

Anti-virus measures and other delay-related costs add 294 billion yen ($2.8 billion) to the price tag, which has ballooned to at least 1.64 trillion yen ($15.8 billion) -- making Tokyo 2020 potentially the most expensive Summer Olympics in history.

Organisers outline plans for holding the event safely, with athletes facing regular testing and restrictions on mingling, and spectators spared quarantine but banned from cheering.

The IOC says it will try to ensure as many participants as possible are vaccinated, but jabs will not be obligatory.

- January 2021: Virus surges, support drops -

Japan declares a virus state of emergency in the Tokyo region just six months before the Olympics are due to open. Other areas of Japan are added later and measures extended for a second month.

Polls show around 80 percent of people in Japan say the event should be cancelled or postponed again.

But organisers and the IOC insist the Games will be held with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga saying they will be "proof of mankind's victory over the virus".

- February 2021: Sexism rows -

Yoshiro Mori, chief of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, resigns after his claims that women talk too much in meetings spark a firestorm of criticism.

He is replaced by Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto, 56, a seven-time Olympian who is one of just two women in Japan's cabinet.

Weeks into her tenure, she accepts the resignation of Hiroshi Sasaki, creative director for the Games' opening and closing ceremonies after a report reveals he suggested a plus-size female comedian could appear as an "Olympig".

- March 2021: Overseas fans barred -

Organisers announce overseas fans will be barred from the Games to limit virus risks, marking the first time the Olympics will be held without foreign spectators.

A decision on how many domestic spectators will be allowed to attend is delayed to a later date.

- March 25, 2021: Torch relay begins -

The rose-gold, cherry blossom-shaped torch is lit at the J-Village sports complex in Fukushima, which served as a base for operations responding to the 2011 nuclear disaster, but no spectators are allowed at the launch

The flame will traverse the country borne by 10,000 runners and passing through all 47 prefectures before arriving for the opening ceremony.

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