Friday July 24, 2020, 20:00 - 23:00 (JST), Japan National Stadium, Tōkyō, Japan. Opening Ceremony, the Games of the XXXII Olympiad. Athletes, organisers, media… Tens of thousands of spectators. Hundreds of millions of television viewers; Tōkyō in the spotlight.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Announcement of a postponement. Less than a week later, the release of new dates, and the reset of the countdown clocks.
Ever since, a bizarre confrontation. A mute dialogue between a city and an event. Question marks and curious situations. Daily reminders, ubiquitous in Tōkyō and all over Japan. Sometimes an almost ashamed lowering of the head when glances meet in front of an Olympic or Paralympic advertisement. Changing opinions, annotation and debates. Conversations, inspiration, creation, then again suspension and pondering silence. People who think to know, people who wish to know and those who may know acknowledge that they don’t know.
When beginning to study the impact of the Olympic and Paralympic Games on host city Tōkyō, I rapidly realised how vast the phenomenon is and how many individuals are somehow concerned by it. Relatively soon, I also became conscious about the mega-event’s opacity and complexity, and it often recalls me the picture of a Rubik’s Cube. Hindsight, that it may be unattainable to catch up on all the specialised knowledge which has been acquired over years and decades.
For the time that preparations were going on more or less as foreseen (with several incidents that I would qualify as relatively recurrent in the run-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games), and notably since the One Year To Go, I could feel the rhythm accelerate and see the scale gradually grow. Tōkyō 2020 was following the general tendency of the modern Olympic Games by expanding in every way: include more sports, aim for more spectators, welcome more athletes who compete for higher records. Citius, Altius, Fortius. As the Games of prior Olympiads, those of Tōkyō 2020 may allegedly be the greatest ever.
In the resumption of the Olympic Games of Antiquity in the modern form, founder Pierre de Coubertin saw the possibility for humanity to benefit from the fruits of various cultures while waiting to be united in a world civilisation. He believed that sports were a way to join national pride with international understanding and considered that the Games could help to strengthen peace. In order to highlight that accepting and respecting differences in race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, level of ability or other status allows peace to be maintained and society to continue to develop and flourish, one of the three core concepts of Tōkyō 2020 is Unity in Diversity.
During times that countries around the globe close their boarders and people are requested to refrain from gathering together, it however seems that quite much goes against these ideals. Japan aimed to attract 40 million visitors in the Olympic year, yet since April, the number of foreign travelers has consecutively fallen below 3,000 per month, which signifies a drop of about 99,9% compared to the same period in 2019. Entry bans were established, for tourists as well as for long-term residents, and when I started to (more frequently than habitually) identify myself as one of few foreigners, I recognised the restrictions’ repercussion.
For rather long, I was convinced that the Tōkyō Games would be held as foreseen, with their beginning in summer 2020. After all, I esteemed that I had some modest knowledge of the event’s past and was conscious about the significance of a postponement or a cancellation, - logistically, politically, economically, symbolically…. After all, Tōkyō has been preparing for seven years, and if one adds the bidding period, even much longer. How should within merely several months everything suddenly be questioned ? As huge it seemed, as fragile it turned out to be. In history, there were several scandals around the Games, threats, boycotts and withdrawn bids. However, only three, respectively five Olympiads have been cancelled: one in 1916 because of World War I, and as the summer and winter event was held the same year from 1924 to 1992, two in 1940 and two in 1944, due to World War II. Although I could hardly imagine that Tōkyō 2020 would not go on as scheduled, at the time officials from several countries started to use forceful vocabulary and draw analogies, I slowly realised towards what we may be headed.
When last autumn I left for my mission which should have allowed me to accompany close-by host city Tōkyō from roughly one year before, until a month after the Paralympic event, I had vague ideas what all may happen until, and especially during summer 2020. I expected to observe the city and country getting progressively prepared, to feel energies accumulate and experience attention grow. I imagined to see people from all over the world gradually arrive. With some form of proudness, I was looking forward to welcoming dear international (research) acquaintances, most of whom I got to know thanks to Tōkyō. With some form of fear, I pictured myself in the middle of nowhere or take a back seat, elsewhere. With some form of naivety, I genuinely hoped to attend the Opening Ceremony of the Tōkyō 2020 Games at the Japan National Stadium.
To my interest, my pleasure as well as my honour, and deeply grateful to the persons who have been supporting me, I could progressively participate at event-related activities and live myself the inauguration of Olympic and Paralympic sites. Almost ironically, it was only about one month after the last New Permanent Venue was accomplished and the Tōkyō 2020 flags were hoisted, that the postponement was announced.
Since the beginning, not only of my mission but also broadly of my project, I have been going through various scenarii though, one specific had for a long time simply not crossed my mind… The one of Tōkyō 2020 not taking place in 2020.