Tokyo Olympics: Looking for a new date for opening, closing

STEPHEN WADE
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Olympics Tokyo Next Steps

Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee President Yoshiro Mori arrives for the first meeting of the “Tokyo 2020 New Launch Task Force" in Tokyo, Thursday, March 26, 2020, two days after the unprecedented postponement was announced due to the spreading coronavirus. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (AP) — The Tokyo Olympics need new dates for the opening and closing ceremonies in 2021.

Nothing much can get done until those dates are worked out by the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government and Tokyo organizers.

“We must decide this soon, otherwise it will be hard to decide on other things to follow,” Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee, told his 30 senior directors — all men but one — seated in a large meeting room on Thursday.

Two days after the unprecedented postponement was announced, the group gathered for the first meeting of what is being called the “Tokyo 2020 New Launch Task Force." They must put the Olympics back together after they were torn apart by the coronavirus pandemic.

Muto and the president of the organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, each gave pep speeches. Mori, an 82-year-old former Japanese prime minister, drew on war memories from his youth to summon the resolve to redo in a few months what was seven years in the planning.

He talked of his father going “to the war in the Pacific” and leaving a rugby ball and a baseball glove behind for his young son.

“I'm sorry, I'm an old person and I talk about the old days," Mori said. "I'm comparing this to the old days and I might be criticized by the media. However, this is the emotion I have inside me and this is the emotion I have as we face the predicament in front of us.”

Muto ran off a condensed string of issues to be resolved: ticketing, security, venues, merchandise, accommodation, the Athletes Village, transportation and lining up unpaid volunteers. He added he was looking at “thousands of contracts" and the interests of broadcasters, sponsors, the IOC, world sports federations and national Olympic committees.

“I didn't imagine at all we'd be tested to this degree,” he acknowledged.

He also voiced another reality.

“Additional expenses are going to be quite massive we assume,” Muto said.

The Japanese financial newspaper Nikkei has estimated added costs due to the delay of $2.7 billion. This would go on top of an official budget of $12.6 billion. A Japanese national audit agency, however, says the actual amount of spending is about twice that size.

IOC President Thomas Bach said Wednesday that “all options are on the table" for new dates. He said next year's Olympics don't have to be restricted to summer in the Northern Hemisphere and might occur sooner.

Two of the marquee Olympic events — track and swimming — have already scheduled their own world championships for July and August of 2021.

If the Olympics are moved into spring, when it's cooler in Tokyo, they clash with the end of the European soccer season. In North America, they would bump into Major League Baseball, NBA basketball, NHL hockey and possibly even college basketball. That's assuming normal sports schedules resume by then.

“The postponed Olympic Games will need sacrifices,” Bach said.

Hidemasa Nakamura, the games delivery officer, was pressed again on dates.

“That's something we haven't decided on yet," he said. "We have no idea when we will be able to finalize the dates. We don't have a fixed plan how to proceed from here."

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