Daniel Etchells

It felt somewhat fitting that the first World Press Briefing (WPB) in the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics should begin the day after the conclusion of the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

The Closing Ceremony of Jakarta Palembang 2018 had not even taken place before Japan's head of delegation Yasuhiro Yamashita was looking ahead to the Games in two years' time, where the hosts are targeting a haul of 30 gold medals.

It followed the country's best gold-medal performance at an Asian Games in 44 years, winning 75 in all.

What is more, Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee was named the "Most Valuable Player" of Jakarta Palembang 2018 having been the athlete behind six of those podium-topping finishes. 

"This is far better than we expected," Yamashita said through an interpreter.

"But achieving 75 gold medals at the Asian Games doesn't mean 30 golds at the Olympics.

"We cannot be overconfident.

"This is one of our enemies."

Overconfidence is also something Tokyo 2020 organisers will be keen to guard against as preparations continue for the next edition of the quadrennial extravaganza.

While the build-up has not been - and almost certainly will not become - anywhere near as problematic as that to Rio 2016, there are still a lot of things that need ironing out, some of which were raised during the opening day of the WPB at the Tokyo Big Sight - the site of the Main Press Centre (MPC) and the International Broadcasting Centre (IBC) during Tokyo 2020 - on Tuesday (September 4).

Anthony Edgar, Head of Media Operations for the International Olympic Committee, acknowledged this in his closing remarks, highlighting accommodation and transport as two of the key issues to have come out of the day of presentations and question and answer sessions.

The World Press Briefing was the first of its kind to be held by the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee ©ITG
The World Press Briefing was the first of its kind to be held by the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee ©ITG

"In all of their planning, what they [the accommodation and transport departments] have been looking at doing is basing their media accommodation near the key train lines and mono-rail lines," he said.

"In other words, you're not all going to be able to get within walking distance of the IBC or MPC, but if you're trying to understand very quickly what to look for, look at those train lines, look at the mono-rail lines, look where they go.

"There is Shimbashi and Shinbuya, for example, which are on those lines and which have a large group of hotels around them within walking distance.

"From those, you can get straight into the IBC and MPC or you can go straight into the city.

"In other words, you’re not completely relying on buses taking you to the IBC and MPC.

"And it’s always been the objective within this city to use the public transport as one of the primary movers of the accredited people, and especially the press."

Arguably the most memorable part of the opening day was when Yosuke Fujiwara, a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee Executive Board, made the case for media representatives being transported all the way back to the front doors of their respective hotels at the end of each day. 

His comments, delivered in English in what appeared to be an attempt to add extra emphasis, were greeted with a big round of applause.

They followed a presentation by Tokyo 2020's executive director of transport Masayuki Kanda, who responded by saying: "I guess that reflects the opinion of a lot of people in the room then."

Edgar argued, however, that Fujiwara's suggestion was not realistic due to the challenges that Tokyo presents.  

"You’re not going to be able to take everyone to a hotel and the way the streets are structured, you cannot run big buses around this city," he said.

"This is why you might have to walk 300 metres or 200m to get to a pick-up place because you can’t take buses around every single stop.

"There is some logic there. 

"It needs a better explanation which we'll work on with Tokyo and try to get that to you so that you can understand it a bit better.

"But if you sit down, look at the map, look at the trainline, look at where the accommodation is being allocated, you can get a better idea of where you can potentially go."

Members of the media are shown an artist's impression of the finished Olympic Village during the venue tour ©Getty Images
Members of the media are shown an artist's impression of the finished Olympic Village during the venue tour ©Getty Images

Day two of the WPB saw attendees given the chance to tour 14 of the 43 competition venues that will be used during Tokyo 2020 as well as the Olympic Village.

Given the reports in July that the Sea Forest Waterway and Olympic Aquatics Centre were two months behind schedule, it was very commendable, and perhaps somewhat surprising, of organisers to include those two venues on the tour.

Although the guides were very much on message in terms of expected time scales, detailing the respective estimated completion dates of May 2019 and February 2020, the chance to see them with my own eyes was very much a welcomed one.

The same could also be said for Tsurigasaki Beach, which will play host to surfing's Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.

Despite wave quality not being at its best on Thursday's (September 6) tour, amid a period considered the peak time of year to surf in Japan, sports manager Kimifumi Imoto expressed confidence that conditions will be on point when it really matters.

International Surfing Association (ISA) President Fernando Aguerre has reiterated on numerous occasions that he has no concerns about the conditions competitors will face.

As a part of surfing's successful bid to become a part of the Olympic programme in August 2016, competitions in both the ocean and using artificial waves were put forward by the ISA.

Natural water was selected, leading to fears that the waves in the summer months will not be sufficient for competition, which is due to take place over four days from July 26 to 29.

Are the fears justified? 

That is something which will only become clear come Games time. 

Following yesterday's one-on-one meetings with Tokyo 2020's functional areas, attention now turns to a tour of the Tōhoku region affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

Beginning here today in Miyagi, the two-day visit has been organised by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

I consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to witness the area's recovery from the natural disasters that killed around 16,000 people and that also caused a nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

It is a nice touch from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to accept the idea of holding the Tokyo 2020 Olympic flame lighting ceremony here on March 11 of that year, the ninth anniversary of the 2011 earthquake. 

IOC President Thomas Bach confirmed as such on the eve of attending the Closing Ceremony of the 2018 Asian Games, ticking another item off Tokyo 2020's to-do list.

That list is still a very extensive, however, and there are a lot more important milestones to reach than that marked by the Organising Committee on Wednesday (September 5), when it posted its 2,020th tweet.

Of most pressing concern is the budget for the Games with the IOC having to continually push Tokyo 2020 to slash costs across several areas of its plans.

Organisers have sent a further 30 money-saving measures to the IOC, which IOC Coordination Commission chairman John Coates claims could save a further $100 million (£75.6 million/€85.5 million).

But as my insidethegames colleague Liam Morgan pointed out in July, 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 has cut costs considerably since the host city's Governor Yuriko Koike warned they could balloon to three times the original estimate, but its budget still stands at a huge ¥1.35 trillion (£9.4 billion/$12.2 billion/€10.5 billion).

It really puts into perspective that the issues raised here at the WPB merely scratch the surface.