"One year from now, Japan will make history" - this is how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach expressed his high hope for a wonderful game that Japanese capital is scheduled to host next summer. A special day-long event was held in Tokyo on July 24 to mark the start of one-year counting for the start of summer games that the organizers are hoping for setting a new record, both terms of participation of athletes as well as number of events to be held. The special event named "One Year to Go" saw the participation of Olympic officials as well as athletes demonstrating the skills of various games.

Addressing the gathering, Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori noted that this second occasion for Tokyo to host Olympics and Paralympics games will be an event that will unite the world regardless of nationality, race, culture and religion. The occasion also coincided with the unveiling of the design of Olympic medals for Tokyo 2020. This will be the first time that Olympic medals will be manufactured from recycled metals. Five thousand medals to be targetted for next year's games will be made using precious metals extracted from used mobile phones and other electronic devices that are no longer in use and donated by the public. The day-long event was wrapped up with the unveiling of a countdown clock manufactured by the renowned Swiss watch maker Omega. The clock has been placed in front of Tokyo station that more than a million people use every day.

The organizing committee of Olympics and Paralympics games announced earlier that Emperor Naruhito had given his consent to a request submitted by the national government and accepted the role of honorary patron of 2020 games. The Emperor has assumed the role on the same day the year-long counting started and is due to relinquish it on 6 September 2020, the closing day of the games.

The IOC Executive Board has already approved the competition schedule for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The action packed program will feature a record 33 sports and 339 events and will run from July 24 until August 9. Beginning from the Tokyo 2020 Games, IOC is offering organizing committees the opportunity to propose additional events for inclusion in the games. The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee has availed the opportunity by proposing 18 additional events in five different sports including Karate, Skateboarding and Surfing. A number of preliminary games in football and softball are to kick-off ahead of the opening ceremony on July 24. A softball game in Fukushima two days before the official opening of the Olympic Games will mark the unofficial start and also serve as a symbol of Japan's commitment to revitalize the region devastated by a powerful earthquake followed by tsunami that triggered the nuclear disaster, memories of which are still haunting the nation. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will use a total of 42 venues, including 24 existing, 10 temporary and 8 new permanent sites.

However, despite the overtly smooth run of Olympics preparations, Tokyo 2020 is not immune of anxieties over some of the daunting tasks that lie ahead. One is how not to disrupt the normal traffic system. Greater Tokyo has a population of more than 35 million and public transport system serves as a major lifeline for those living in the proximity. With the aim of ensuring smooth traffic in central Tokyo during the Olympics, Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism conducted a test last week by closing more than 30 entry ramps to the Metropolitan Expressway at one point for monitoring traffic flow. The reduction of traffic volume achieved at the test was far smaller than the targeted 30 percent. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is planning to make an appeal to companies for allowing workers to work from home during the Olympics, which the authorities think would ease the pressure on public transport system.

Another headache for the organizers is the summer heat that in recent years is showing increasing sign of intensity, particularly at the time the Olympic Games are scheduled. Organizers are considering a number of measures, including water spray and few other cooling options. Moreover, to beat the summer heat, events like the marathon will start just after dawn.

Although the start of a year-long countdown had shown the enthusiasm surrounding the Olympic Games, not everyone in Tokyo is happy with the preparation. Activists opposing the Games say the event will hurt individuals and businesses through high costs and disruption and will provide only limited gains to a small number of people consisting of political, economic and media elite. Hangorin-no-kai, a Japan based activist group issued a statement last week arguing that the Olympics during a dangerously hot summer could harm the health of athletes, spectators and volunteers. It has also been mentioned in the statement that the disruptions of public transport system and displacement of homeless people during the Olympics are to be seen as violation of human rights. The group also claims that wood used for building the main stadium might have been illegally logged from rainforests.

It is a known fact that the Summer Olympics are expensive matters, even when existing venues are used. Tokyo is spending at least 2.16 trillion yen and 70 percent of this expenditure is coming from taxpayer money. What benefit taxpayers are to get except for being a symbolic host of the game is a question increasingly being asked by many; and with the approach of the game many more will probably join the rank of such not so loud protesters.

(Tokyo, July 29. 2019)

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