After a year's delay, the Tokyo Summer Olympics appear set to proceed. The world's best athletes will once again compete in the pool, on the track, around the velodrome and high above the trampoline. But the circumstances will be most unusual.
Here's what we know about the Games.
Are the 2021 Olympics cancelled?
The Summer Games, scheduled for Tokyo in July and August 2020, were delayed for a year because of the pandemic. The Games are currently scheduled to proceed July 23 to August 8, 2021. (A few preliminary events will take place on July 21 and 22.)
The Paralympics, also delayed by a year, are to take place August 24 to September 5.
As of now, yes, really.
The International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo organising committee are determined to hold the Games after years of planning. They are also eager to hang on to the billions in television money that they would lose if the Games were cancelled. Organisers say postponing again is not possible.
Surveys show that 70 per cent to 80 per cent of people in Japan think the Games should not go on this summer.
But it's still called Tokyo 2020?
Yes, despite coming a year late, the Games are still called Tokyo 2020. T-shirts, mugs, signage and other branded gear will all reflect that.
Will there be anyone in the stands?
Japanese fans can attend events, as of now. But most international visitors will not be allowed to come to Japan for the Olympics. Exceptions will be made for athletes, officials and some news media members.
Some international fans are concerned about when, and how, they will get their ticket money back. It may take a while.
Are they still having the torch relay?
Yes, the relay got underway in Fukushima, Japan, on March 25. The opening ceremony was closed to the public, and the routes are not being announced until 30 minutes before the start time. Spectators can attend only in their home areas, and cheering is forbidden. Some torchbearers, including some celebrities, have pulled out of the event.
What's with the sexism from Olympics officials?
Two significant Olympics officials have left their posts after making sexist remarks. In February, the president of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee, Yoshiro Mori, resigned after saying that women talk too much in meetings. The Olympics' creative director, Hiroshi Sasaki, quit in March after calling a popular comedian and plus-size fashion designer, Naomi Watanabe, "Olympig."
How often are the Olympics held?
The Summer and Winter Olympics alternate every two years. Because of the delay in the 2020 Summer Games, the 2022 Winter Games will follow the Tokyo Olympics by only six months. The Summer Games will return in 2024.
The tradition of the Olympics being held every four years was borrowed from the ancient Olympics in Greece, which started in 776 B.C. and continued quadrennially until A.D. 394.
Where will future Games be held?
Beijing will host the Winter Games in 2022, becoming the first city to host the Summer and Winter Games. (The Summer Games were there in 2008.)
The Summer Games will be in Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028. The 2026 Winter Games will be in Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. The host city for the 2030 Winter Games will be chosen in 2023.
How many times has Tokyo hosted the Games?
Once before, in 1964. Japan also hosted the Winter Games in Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998.
Have the Olympics been cancelled or postponed before?
The Olympics had never been postponed, but they were cancelled by two world wars. The 1916 Games were inconveniently scheduled for Berlin when World War I broke out. The 1940 Winter Games were scheduled for — bad timing again — Sapporo, Japan. When that clearly wasn't going to work, they were rescheduled … for Germany. Needless to say, those Games, and the 1940 Summer Games, which were somehow scheduled for Tokyo, did not happen. The Winter and Summer Games in Italy and Britain in 1944 never happened either.
Pandemic aside, is the city ready?
Unlike other recent hosts, notably Rio de Janeiro in 2016, it appears that Tokyo has its stadiums and infrastructure in order, although surprises sometimes arise when athletes start arriving.
What is the time difference?
Tokyo is 3 hours behind New Zealand. The opening ceremony starts at 8pm Japan time, 11pm in New Zealand.
Who is the mascot?
Miraitowa is the mascot of the Games, and Someity is the Paralympics mascot. The name Miraitowa is drawn from the Japanese words for "future" and "eternity." Someity's name is taken from a type of cherry tree. You'll have to judge for yourself what animals or creatures they resemble.
Will Usain Bolt be there? How about Michael Phelps?
No. Two of the biggest stars of recent Games have retired. But high-profile US athletes like Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky, Ryan Lochte and Allyson Felix are aiming to return.
What are the new sports and events?
Baseball and softball return after a 13-year absence. The new sports are karate, surfing, sport climbing and skateboarding.
Some new events have been added to traditional sports, too, including three-on-three basketball and Madison cycling, a two-person team event. Several sports will be adding relays or other competitions for mixed gender teams, including track, swimming, triathlon, archery and table tennis.
What is sport climbing?
An event in which athletes race to climb various types of walls.
Are they really going to surf?
Yes, in the ocean off Shidashita Beach, about 65km from Tokyo. The waves will be significantly smaller than some of the most well-known waves in places like Tahiti, Hawaii and Australia. Surfers will be able to show off acrobatics and skills more than they would on larger waves.
What events were dropped?
While wrestling was at one point dropped from the 2020 Games, it was eventually reinstated, so no sports will be missing. A handful of men's events in various sports were dropped in favour of women's events to bring the Games closer to overall gender parity.
How is it decided what events to add or drop?
The IOC chooses which sports to include in the Games. The committee looks for sports with worldwide popularity and tries to give different regions a few sports each that they can succeed in. Gender equity has also been a primary concern of the committee for several decades, with sports like boxing and wrestling adding women's competition this century.
Is Russia coming?
Yes and no. After evidence emerged of state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Russia was banned from international sport for four years in December 2019, although that ban was later cut in half.
Similar to their inclusion at the 2018 Olympics, some Russian athletes with no doping background will be allowed to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, but they will not formally represent their country. They will be listed with a title to be determined like "Russian neutral athletes." The Russian anthem will not be played, and the Russian flag will not be displayed.
Both individual and team athletes from Russia may compete, if they meet the criteria; Russia has qualified a team in women's water polo, for example.
Is North Korea coming?
No. It will skip the Games "to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection," said a government-run website.
North Korea has participated in every Summer Games since 1972 except for 1984 in Los Angeles, when it joined a Soviet boycott, and 1988 in Seoul, South Korea. North Korean athletes have won 16 gold medals.
Do the athletes get any money?
There is no prize money from the IOC for winners. But many national federations give payments to athletes for winning medals. In 2018, for example, the US Olympic Committee awarded athletes US$37,500 ($53,100) for winning a gold medal, US$22,500 ($31,900) for silver and US$15,000 ($21,200) for bronze.
When did the modern Olympics Games get started?
In 1896, when a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, began a revival of the ancient Greek Games. The first Olympics, held in Athens, included only male competitors, contesting nine sports.
What do the Olympic rings mean?
The five rings, of blue, yellow, black, green and red, date to 1912 and were designed by de Coubertin. The colours were chosen so that every flag in the world would have at least one matching colour.
The reason there are five rings is murky: They may represent the five populated continents, or the five Olympic Games that had been staged at the time they were designed. There is no particular meaning for any individual ring.
Written by: Victor Mather
Illustrations by: Rose Wong
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