A Tokyo 2020 Olympics signboard is removed at the Aichi prefectural office building in Nagoya City. Photo: AFP

Japan’s media and athletes reacted with disappointment Wednesday to the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but expressed relief the Games had not been canceled altogether over the coronavirus pandemic.

The postponement, unprecedented in peacetime, came after heavy pressure from athletes around the world and followed an admission from Japan’s prime minister that a delay was now “inevitable.”

But there was still shock and disappointment in Japan, where the Games have been promoted as the “Recovery Olympics,” intended to showcase reconstruction after the devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

The Nikkei business daily said Japan had avoided the worst-case scenario of a cancellation, but “it is like all the efforts of the last seven years are now back to square one.”

“It is inevitable that huge additional costs will emerge,” it added.

Japan and the organizing committee were spending $12.6 billion on the Games and experts say they may need to spend around half that again to rearrange the event – perhaps recouping the losses when the Olympics are held.

The Tokyo Shimbun headlined its coverage “surprise and embarrassment,” but conceded in an article that the situation left organizers and Olympic officials with few options.

“Choosing a one-year postponement was a decision taken by a process of elimination,” the paper said, with an Olympics this year seen as too risky and a longer delay to 2022 likely to be too expensive.

The newspaper expressed disappointment with the way the IOC handled the decision, clinging for weeks to the line that the Games could still open as scheduled on July 24, before reversing course.

“We didn’t see the strong leadership that had been hoped for,” the paper said.

Athletes in Japan said they were disappointed, but committed to training toward the rescheduled Games.

“Honestly speaking, my mind is still spinning,” sports climber Akiyo Noguchi wrote in a post on her Instagram page.

“But I’m taking it positively since I’ll be able to spend more time doing the sport I love,” added Noguchi, who plans to make the Tokyo Games her last Olympics.

“I will spend the time I have been given to be stronger both physically and mentally,” she added.

“For now, I hope the world will overcome this situation as soon as possible, and that the Olympics will be held in Tokyo.”

‘Best scenario’

Jun Mizutani, a 30-year-old Japanese table tennis player who competed at the Beijing, London and Rio Games, reacted lightheartedly to the news, tweeting a digitally aged photo of himself with the message: “I can do it.”

Athletes and sports associations around the world had pushed for the move given the effects the virus has had on everything from qualifiers to training, so the final decision was far from a shock.

“We were ready as the mood for postponement was growing,” Toshihisa Tsuchihashi of the Japan Tennis Association told the Nikkan sports daily.

“I think it’s a wise decision. I guess players will have mixed feelings, but I believe they will reset and do their best. I’ll support them.”

And Ichiro Hoshino, a senior director of the Japan Table Tennis Association, told the daily it had become clear that holding the Games this summer was impossible.

“But I also feel that it was good that it was not cancelled amid this serious situation,” he said.

“I’d say it will be good for athletes as [the situation] has become a little more predictable.”

Both the IOC and Japanese organizers and officials have insisted that cancellation is not on the table, with the goal now to hold the rescheduled Games by summer 2021 at the latest.

Under the circumstances, wrote the conservative Sankei Shimbun daily, the decision of a one-year postponement was “the best scenario.”

Reorganizing starts

On Wednesday, Japan set about the unprecedented task of reorganizing the Games.

The dramatic step to shift the Olympics, never before seen in peacetime, upends every aspect of the organisation – including venues, security, ticketing and accommodation.

In a move symbolic of the difficulties now facing Tokyo, Olympic countdown clocks in the city switched from displaying the number of days to go, instead simply showing today’s date and the time.

“It’s like taking seven years to build the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle and, with just one piece to go, having to start again but now with less time to finish,” tweeted Craig Spence, spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee.

It is not even clear exactly when the rescheduled Games will take place, with the International Olympic Committee saying the new date would be “beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021.”

The delayed event – still to be called Tokyo 2020 – will be a “testament to mankind’s defeat of the new virus,”said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

He repeated that message in a Wednesday call with US President Donald Trump, in which the leaders agreed the Games would be “proof that humans have beaten the new coronavirus,” a Japanese government spokesman said.

The Olympic flame “could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present,” Japan and the IOC said in a joint statement.

The quadrennial Olympics, which has weathered boycotts, terrorist attacks and protests, is the highest-profile event affected by the virus that has killed thousands and postponed or cancelled sports competitions worldwide.

‘Let us hope’

The Olympic torch relay, due to begin from Fukushima Thursday, has also been postponed but the flame will stay in the area until it is safe to begin.

Organizers now have to wrestle with a host of unanswered questions: are the venues still available? What to do with ticket-holders and volunteers? How to fit the Games into a crowded 2021 sporting schedule?

Japan and the organising committee were spending $12.6 billion on the Games and experts say they may need to spend around half that again to rearrange the event, perhaps recouping the losses when the Olympics are held.

Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori, an 82-year former prime minister and cancer survivor, pointed to his own health battles as inspiration for the difficult times ahead.

“We have no choice but to have hope. I myself suffered cancer…. But I was saved by a new drug. I am here, allowed to live.

“Let us hope for these things.”