The strength of hope: the long wait for the Olympics in Japan
TOKYO - This weekend should have seen the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Instead of a spectacular party, there is instead silence in the city due to the coronavirus and concerns about the Games rearranged for 2021.
Tokyo (dpa) - In a different world without the coronavirus, Sunday would have seen the eyes of the globe trained on Tokyo's Olympic Stadium for the closing ceremony of the 2020 Games.
Athletes would have packed their cases to return home in triumph or despair: sayonara and arigatou - goodbye and thank you, in Japanese.
But back in the real world, there is no celebration and Tokyo is getting used to the sound of silence rather than sports and tourism amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Organizers are taking on the mammoth task of rearranging the Games with a one-year delay to 2021 but questions remain over whether the global health situation makes this feasible.
"You need the strength of hope to overcome adversity," said Japan's swimming superstar Rikako Ikee shortly before a modest ceremony to celebrate a new one-year countdown to the Games.
Fireworks illuminated the sky at the first event of this kind in 2019 but this time there was little mood for celebration.
Ikee was the star of the 2018 Asian Games when she won six gold medals in Jakarta. Japan's golden girl could have been the face of her home Games but was diagnosed with leukaemia - her Olympic hopes have been delayed to Paris 2024.
Local organizers are adopting a similar attitude in their preparations. Questions abound.
How safe will the capital city be when around 15,400 athletes and parathletes arrive in 12 months? Will foreign fans be allowed to visit or locals only? Will there be fans at all?
And what about the volunteers, thousands of journalists and officials who work in the background? How can they be protected from the coronavirus and, in reverse, how will Tokyo's citizens be protected from them?
Major figures in Japan have repeatedly said it will take months before the answers are known and that does not even consider the colossal costs - into billions of dollars - of the delay.
Japan is having a relatively mild pandemic with 'only' around 45,000 infections and about 1,000 deaths from Covid-19. But these numbers are going up, rather than down, with Tokyo particularly affected.
Japanese diver Ken Terauchi recently tested positive for the coronavirus according to local media. He had been the first Japanese qualifier for his home Games.
The government recently started a campaign to promote internal tourism in the country and, despite rising infections, do not yet think it is necessary to declare an emergency situation. There has never been a lockdown.
But it is not just the situation in Japan, rather around the world, which will determine the fate of the Games.
"If the current situation remains, we can't do it," said local organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori to Japanese broadcaster NHK. He added: "I don't believe that this situation will exist in a year."
Many of his compatriots have a different view. A majority in a recent survey said they believe the Games will be postponed or cancelled completely with only 23.9 per cent expecting the revised 2021 edition to run as planned.
As a result, Olympic fever in Japan is not being felt. The Olympic Village with thousands of apartments is compared to a ghost village by the media and the floating Olympic rings in Tokyo Bay have been removed for maintenance
They should be reinstalled in around four months - by then, the future of Tokyo 2020 could be clearer.