Nick Butler ©ITG

I spent much of my visit to Tokyo last week for the Rio 2016 debrief and International Olympic Committee (IOC) Coordination Commission inspection staying in a quintessentially Japanese capsule hotel.

Having left my luggage in a locker, sleeping quarters consisted of row upon row of two-tiered "rooms", for want of a better term. To get in to my top shelf bunk, I had to clamber up a ladder and pull down a hatch to enter a compartment of which the entire floor was a mattress. It felt almost like sleeping inside a microwave, minus the heat, but was surprisingly comfortable.

Some say the Olympic Movement is also stuck inside a capsule cut adrift from wider opinion.

This is not always fair - particularly as the IOC spent much of their visit warning Tokyo how their budget estimates would not have a bad impact on public opinion - but it did rather sum up the tone of the Rio debrief, at least the parts us media folk were privy to.

"Iconic", "transformative", "marvellous Games in a marvellous city". The superlatives came thick and fast in a battle for the most outlandish adjective. A Games which benefited the poorest sections of society. A Games where organisation and teamwork came to the fore. A Games where the only setbacks were unforeseen ones relating to wider political and economic problems out of organisers’ control. A Games which created a new Brazil and, apparently, "encouraged more than six million young people to lead healthier lifestyles".

This all painted a lovely image, but a different one from the reality on the ground at an event most of us found chaotic and a "touch and go" success of the tentative rather than the emphatic kind.

Speakers including Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes (right) gave a largely glowing summary of the Games ©IOC
Speakers including Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes (right) gave a largely glowing summary of the Games ©IOC

And, for all the wider projects which the Games supposedly acted as a catalyst to ferment, it is preposterous - insulting, even - to claim it has truly changed the state of a country with as much poverty, inequality and general malaise as Brazil. Indeed, one statistic they did not mention was how the murder rate in Rio de Janeiro State has shot up by 21 per cent this year. Or how a report has found food and drink served at the Games to be "below healthy standards".

Okay, I understand that Rio was essentially a client of the IOC and, as such, there would have been little sense in publicly lambasting them. I am sure that more constructively critical views were aired in the technically-centered private meetings, as they were in the lobbies and coffee rooms that I spent my time loitering in, but after day three it was all getting a bit much.

What about the green diving pools? The falling cameras, stray bullets and empty seats? What about the logistical failings of an anti-doping programme so criticised after the Games? And what about how 700 suppliers are still owed millions of dollars in unpaid contracts? IOC executive director Christophe Dubi and Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman both promised they all will be paid when eventually asked during a closing media briefing. Yet it seemed amazing this had been airbrushed out until then.

Worryingly, there is a press conference entitled the "success of Rio 2016" scheduled during the IOC Executive Board meeting tomorrow, so I feel I may have to perfect my eye-rolling technique again.

The International Paralympic Committee at least mixed their praise with a warning about how future organisers must not, like Rio, "only realise the full potential of the Paralympics when the event was underway".

Preparation before the Paralympics as well as repeated delays constructing the velodrome were two problems associated with Rio 2016 ©Getty Images
Preparation before the Paralympics as well as repeated delays constructing the velodrome were two problems associated with Rio 2016 ©Getty Images

Most other advice consisted of such left-field pearls of wisdom as "keep the athletes at the centre of the Games" and how "time is of the essence".

The only public speaker who seemed truly objective was Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) President Francesco Ricci Bitti, the Italian who, if you remember, strongly criticised Rio preparations during the body’s 2014 General Assembly in Belek.

"Construction went very late [in 2014] so our ASOIF was obliged to make an alert," he said. "This was not well received, [by Rio 2016] but I felt it was necessary to help our friends in Rio with a strong alert."

Huge improvement resulted but not everything was solved.

"I have to say that when you deliver a velodrome one or two weeks before the Games, it is difficult," he added. "It impacted on ticketing, on the test events, so I recommend Tokyo 2020 to consider timing."

Consulting sporting bodies and International Federations at all stages of preparation was also cited as key, as was drawing up a "matrix of responsibility" between the mass of federal, state and municipal-level authorities involved.

This last point is certainly valid for Tokyo. There, the political system is different but beset by similar divisions. That was shown in September when a Task Force commissioned by new Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike suddenly announced how changes must be made to stop budgets ballooning to ¥3 trillion (£22 billion/$30 billion/€26 billion) - a figure four times the bid-time projection. This set into motion two months of deliberations over whether to scrap plans for three new venues and to instead utilise existing facilities which, in the case of rowing and canoe sprint, would be 400 kilometres away from the city.

I was impressed by how the meeting last week at which the rowing and canoe sprint move was shelved in favour of the initial Sea Forest venue in the city was fully open to the media. This is how they do things in Japan, we were told, although it can often mean that you have to effectively conduct a whole separate meeting beforehand to agree on what you are going to decide…

Yet, while the "Four Party" representatives from the IOC, Tokyo 2020 and both the National and Tokyo Metropolitan Governments may have acquiesced on fundamentals, discussions were never harmonious and at times you could feel the tension, animosity even, between Koike and Organsing Committee President Yoshirō Mori.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is a key figure during preparations for Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is a key figure during preparations for Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images

It is a fairly accepted view that Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes was the key figure in forcing through Olympic preparations before the Games. A similarly fruitful relationship must be found with Koike, and this need may have explained why her proposal for a shift in volleyball and wheelchair basketball venues to Yokohama is still being considered despite a clear sporting preference for initial plans to develop the new Ariake Arena on Tokyo Bay.

The other yet-to-be-confirmed venue will house baseball and softball. Yokohama is expected to host the main stadium, but IOC President Thomas Bach proposed in October that the region of Fukushima also be used to show the power of sport’s healing power after the dreadful 2011 earthquake, tsunami and accompanying nuclear accident there which left 16,000 people dead.

This is all well and good, but the World Baseball and Softball Confederation are rightly pointing-out how making players travel 320 kilometres between venues during a tightly-packed competition hardly fulfils the "athletes first" objective.

I would add to that, however, that on what was my first proper visit around the venues, I was impressed by how many are close together in the Tokyo Bay and Heritage zones despite the well-publicised changes. The Athletes' Village is due to lie directly in between the two hubs.

Budgetary issues were the other dominant factor last week. IOC Coordination Commission chair John Coates publicly criticised a proposed maximum "cap" of $20 billion (£16 billion/€18.8 billion/¥2.3 trillion) on three different occasions. Mori, however, has so far refused to back-down and insists they need to define Ricci Bitti’s "matrix of responsibility" before making clear decisions.

For the record, Coates has not yet offered for the IOC to stay in a capsule hotel during the Games to trim costs.

A capsule hotel would make a very different home for the IOC membership at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images
A capsule hotel would make a very different home for the IOC membership at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images

Mori is a fascinating figure. So far in his few appearances with the international press, the former Prime Minister has claimed "not to speak English because it was the enemy’s language" and that he would have "had to be God" to predict every problem faced so far.

One wonderful story associated with him concerns a meeting with then United States President Bill Clinton in 2000. Mori was given basic English training by his aides and told to say "how are you" followed by "me too" in anticipation of the likely reply.

Unfortunately, he is said to have mistakenly asked "Who are you?" to which a slightly surprised Clinton replied: "I’m Hillary’s husband".

"Me too," beamed a smiling Mori.

This is probably something of an embellished urban legend but it does not altogether seem out of character. Yet I found myself warming to his refreshingly forthright manner. It is clear that press conferences will be very different to the "not a problem, everything will be fine" stock answer of Nuzman.

A challenge for Mori and the rest of the Organising Committee will be having the speed and initiative to react to problems as they arise.

Rio 2016 produced some low moments but also some glorious highs including a world record breaking 400 metres victory for Wayde van Niekerk ©Getty Images
Rio 2016 produced some low moments but also some glorious highs including a world record breaking 400 metres victory for Wayde van Niekerk ©Getty Images

"In my experience as a businessman here, I would say the quality in Japan is more the discipline," Ricci Bitti added during his appraisal. "So I recommend them to become more flexible."

This was one area where Rio proved really strong in those final few months. Ricci Bitti cited the two leading figures in the Sports Department, Rodrigo Garcia and former 800 metres runner Agberto Guimarães, as being particularly good at making on-the-spot decisions to deal with the latest crisis.

Japan, with its more rigid rules based culture in which all decisions require meticulous planning and protocol, will find this harder. On the other hand, their superior discipline should hopefully ensure that less problems arise in the first place.

My final two days in Tokyo was spent attending the International Judo Federation Grand Slam at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium due to be used for table tennis during the Games. Japan won 10 out of 14 gold medals as many of their biggest international rivals remained absent post Rio in a virtually full stadium which, while more traditional than the partisan booing seen in Rio, boded well for the atmosphere in 2020.

There is a long way still to go with preparations, obviously. But it seems safe to predict that the four year road to Tokyo will not be quite as rocky as the one to Rio. Then again, this does not necessarily mean too much and you could bet a life sentence in a capsule hotel that it will not be completely smooth.