Liam Morgan

It is little wonder the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its Coordination Commission for Tokyo 2020 seem to relish visits to the Japanese capital to inspect preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Not only is Tokyo a clean, vibrant and hospitable city but the local Organising Committee are offering the IOC welcome relief from the scandals and controversies which deeply afflicted the most recent edition of the Summer Games.

With two years to go until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, IOC officials lined up to criticise progress in the Brazilian city. Words such as "concerned" and "disappointed" were, unsurprisingly, uttered far more frequently than anything approaching praise and for good reason.

Coordination Commission chairman John Coates was among the most vocal. In 2014, he said preparations in Rio were "the worst I have experienced" amid political chaos, riots and delays in pretty much every single area.

As Tokyo 2020 moves towards the same two year milestone - which is considered important in the Olympic Movement but is not likely to generate much traction elsewhere - the tune from the IOC could not be any more different.

This was evident throughout the most recent visit of the Coordination Commission, which concluded on Thursday (July 12). Tokyo 2020 was on the receiving end of gushing praise from Coates and other IOC officials.

There is little doubt Tokyo 2020 have made progress. You need only take a look at the speed of construction at the National Stadium to see organisers have bucked up their ideas and are roughly where they should be at this stage of the Games.

But it would be equally wrong to suggest everything is perfect.

IOC Coordination Commission chairman John Coates was full of praise for Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images
IOC Coordination Commission chairman John Coates was full of praise for Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images

For a start, the IOC are having to continually push Tokyo 2020 to slash costs across several areas of their plans. Organisers have sent a further 30 money-saving measures to the IOC, which Coates claims could save a further $100 million (£75.6 million/€85.5 million), but it remains to be seen whether that figure is accurate and calculated or just plucked out of the air for public relations and perception reasons.

Tokyo 2020 have cut costs considerably since Governor Yuriko Koike warned costs could balloon to three times the original estimate, but their budget still stands at a huge ¥1.35 trillion (£9.1 billion/$12.3 billion/€10.3 billion).

At a time where bidding for the Games has reached new levels of apathy, that is not a particularly appealing price tag for cities interested in staging the world’s biggest sporting event.

Tokyo 2020 are under pressure to keep a lid on their expenditure for this reason and even Coates himself has previously admitted that the current figure could dissuade other cities from entering future bid races.

Coates may have urged Tokyo 2020 to deliver an Olympics and Paralympics which justifies the cost of hosting but is that even possible? Can any city really rationalise spending that much on what many consider a grandiose vanity project?

The IOC must also practice what they preach. They can urge Tokyo 2020 to save money but they need to set an example by making it cheaper to bid for and host the Games.

In fairness, they have taken steps in this direction with the launch of their "new norm" reforms, which are designed to do exactly that. But judging by Sion and Graz's withdrawal from the 2026 race, it has not made bidding for or staging the Olympics and Paralympics any more attractive just yet.

Venues were singled out for particular praise by the visiting IOC officials ©Getty Images
Venues were singled out for particular praise by the visiting IOC officials ©Getty Images

Given the spending power available to Tokyo 2020, there is also the possibility of organisers merely throwing money at solving problems, which could contribute to further overspend, while every city that is gearing up to host the Games experiences costly delays in construction of the necessary infrastructure.

With Tokyo 2020's spending already firmly under the microscope, there is plenty of potential for that to worsen. On the other hand, should organisers heed the calls from the IOC - which their predecessors have not always done - they should be able to reduce their coffers considerably before the Opening Ceremony takes place on July 24.

While praise from the IOC is as predictable as Tokyo's transport being on time, not everyone involved in the gargantuan project that is the Olympic and Paralympic Games is entirely satisfied.

International Federations (IFs) queued up in their droves at a gathering of Summer Olympic officials back in April to criticise Tokyo 2020 and some of those concerns have still not been addressed.

The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) have been unrelenting in their criticism of Tokyo 2020 regarding the format and the logistics of holding matches in the disaster-hit Fukushima but have been met with a stubborn response every time they raise the issue.

At the press conference to bring the Coordination Commission to an end, Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori warned the WBSC were likely to fail with their bid owing to - you guessed it - the need to save money wherever possible.

Coates also claimed previous issues highlighted by World Sailing, whose chief executive Andy Hunt said Tokyo 2020 were a year behind schedule only three months ago, had been addressed but declined to provide any proof and World Sailing are yet to offer a response.

Tokyo 2020 have not escaped the usual pre-Games concerns of transport and climate but organisers would have bitten your hand off if you told them these would be among the principle worries with two years to go, as would the IOC.

Where Tokyo 2020 do deserve credit is their decision to start the Torch Relay in the Fukushima prefecture, one of the worst affected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which killed nearly 16,000 people.

The confirmation comes as part of a concerted effort from Tokyo 2020 to ensure their Games help with the regeneration and reconstruction of an area devastated by one of the worst natural disasters on record, and organisers should be commended for that.

The floods in western Japan meant there was a sombre mood in Tokyo this week ©Getty Images
The floods in western Japan meant there was a sombre mood in Tokyo this week ©Getty Images

"With Fukushima named the starting point of the Torch Relay, the Relay will be a symbol of the Olympics of recovery," said Reconstruction Minister Masayoshi Yoshino.

"We want to use this as a global showcase for Japan's recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

"In order to restore livelihoods in the disaster-struck areas, we hope that victims take part (in the Relay) as Torch runners."

A more recent tragedy, the floods in western Japan which have claimed the lives of more than 200 people, made for a rather sombre Coordination Commission inspection and served as another grim example of Japan’s vulnerability to destructive incidents caused by mother nature.

It also served as a reminder that in the grand scheme of things, all the talk of Olympic budgets, heat and traffic is largely irrelevant. 

Quite simply, there are more important things to worry about.