Chinese gymnast Shi Cong during the tournament. (KIMIMASA MAYAMA)
The good news for the Tokyo Olympics is that Japan held a one-day gymnastics exhibition match on Sunday in front of several thousand fans with the participation of 22 athletes from Russia, China and the United States.
They were joined by eight from Japan.
Non-Japanese entered their home after a 14-day quarantine and were mostly kept locked in their Tokyo hotel in strict isolation. They also underwent PCR tests on a daily basis in Japan.
The event is the latest of its kind, after organizers packed a ballpark with fans last week. The intention is to show that the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, can open in just under nine months.
But there are tougher numbers for the Olympics to overcome.
Next year's Games will involve 11,000 athletes from 206 nations and territories, all affected differently by COVID-19. Add to this 4,400 more Paralympic athletes and thousands of officials, judges, VIPs, media, announcers and sponsors who will also be required to enter Japan.
Will tens of thousands of non-Japanese fans be allowed to attend, or will the Games be for Japanese spectators only?
Organizers in Tokyo and the International Olympic Committee have given few details and concrete plans are not expected until next year, when a vaccine and rapid tests could be available to solve some problems.
Kohei Uchimura, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner from Japan, laid out the problem very clearly after Sunday's exhibition match.
“Unfortunately, 80% of Japanese people do not believe that the Tokyo Olympics can take place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, ” he said, speaking after the meeting in Japanese on a public address system for fans at the Yoyogi, the national stadium. He was also addressing his fellow athletes.
“I know it is natural to think this way,” he added. “But I would like people to change their minds from: We can't keep the Olympics to how can we do it?”
Uchimura noted that many athletes have not been able to practice and many have gone the entire year without competition.
If the Olympic Games are held, these will not be Olympic Games like any other. The rules will be strict. Trips will be limited. And despite all the precautions, some athletes will surely contract COVID-19 and be eliminated from the competition. IOC President Thomas Bach and Vice President John Coates have recognized this.
This is the Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo that was used as a rehearsal for the gymnastics events. (Hiro Komae)
Fans entering the stadium, which was the swimming pool at the 1964 Olympics, had their temperatures taken and their hands disinfected. The seats were scattered around and everyone wore face masks, which is standard practice throughout Japan. And cheering was not allowed.
“My only problem is my life inside the hotel,” said Angelina Melnikova, who won silver at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, before the match. “I was surprised that I couldn't walk freely, not even inside the hotel. I wanted to tour Tokyo. But it is impossible to do that this time. I understand clearly”.
Japan is officially spending $ 12.6 billion to host the Olympics, although a government audit last year said it was double that. Everything but $ 5.6 billion is public money.
Beyond this, estimates suggest that the postponement will cost another $ 2 billion to $ 3 billion. The University of Oxford published a study in September showing that these are the most expensive Summer Olympics on record.
Just over 1,800 people in Japan have died from COVID-19. Japan has controlled the virus better than most, though Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga warned on Friday of a resurgence of the coronavirus in Japan. The northernmost island of Hokkaido also raised alert levels last week.
Gymnastics organizers also said that the city of Kitakyushu, in southern Japan, will hold the 2021 artistic and rhythmic gymnastics world championships next October.