FIG president hopes Tokyo meet opens door for postponed Games

The meet marks the first international event to be held at an Olympics venue since the Games were postponed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This picture, taken on April 18, 2009, shows the Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 1, top, and No. 2, bottom, which were used as the venues for swimming and basketball in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The gymnastics meet will be held here on November 8. - AP

Morinari Watanabe is no stranger to pressure but the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) president says he has never felt such responsibility ahead of a four-nation meet in November that could “open the door” to the Tokyo Olympics.

The Tokyo meet will feature gymnasts from Japan, the United States, China and Russia and marks the first international event to be held at an Olympics venue since the Games were postponed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watanabe is determined Tokyo will pass the first major test of its city’s readiness when the athletes and officials arrive for the November 8 meet at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.

'Greatest pressure'

“I feel pressure and responsibility at every event ... naturally, I feel the greatest pressure ever at this event in my life,” Watanabe, who is also an International Olympic Committee member, told Reuters via email.

“We want to open the door to Tokyo 2020.”

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Watanabe said the FIG began preparations in June and have been working with the Japanese Gymnastics Association and the government to make sure the meet can be held safely.

Foreign athletes are due to arrive in Tokyo four days before the event and will not have to go through the usual two-week quarantine period demanded of international visitors to Japan.

However, they will be quarantined for two weeks in their own country before leaving for Japan and will undergo regular COVID-19 testing in the build-up to the meet.

While in Tokyo, their movements will be limited to the gymnasium and the team hotel.

“We have developed COVID-19 guidelines following strictly all recommendations made by WHO (World Health Organisation),” said Watanabe.

“They will be under very strict control for two weeks.”

Hope, friendship, solidarity

The event - which will be attended by 2,000 fans - could provide a blueprint for next year's Games with Tokyo set to welcome over 11,000 athletes alone.

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Watanabe wants the meet to show the power of sport in difficult times.

“There is hope in sports. There is friendship in sports. There is solidarity,” he said.

“I want to people all over the world to know it.”