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Editorial comment

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are finally underway after having been postponed for a year – a first in the history of the modern event.

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With the complications caused by the pandemic and a recent survey showing that a staggering 83% of Japanese people wanted the event postponed (again) or just cancelled outright, there was reason to suspect that the games wouldn’t be going ahead at all. However, with the decision eventually made to press on, the First and Second World Wars remain the only two events to have ever caused the modern Olympics to be cancelled.

Though the games are going ahead, things aren’t exactly business as usual. In happier, pre-pandemic times, the Japanese government had hoped to welcome 1 million spectators over the course of the games. However, with concerns over rising case numbers in Japan (resulting in a state of emergency being declared in Tokyo), there will be no crowds of cheering onlookers at any of the Olympic venues as spectators have been banned – another unfortunate first for the event. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) even made the decision to limit accreditation to only those who have “essential and operational roles” at the games, ruling out athletes from bringing their partners and families for the occasion.

This news will be particularly disappointing for Japanese taxpayers who funded the construction of new facilities, such as The Japan National Stadium, built to be the centrepiece of the games. Constructed on the site of the previous national stadium, and designed using timber sourced from across Japan’s 47 prefectures, the stadium cost US$1.43 billion to construct and is designed to hold a fixed capacity of 68 000 people. Another venue constructed specifically for the 2020 games is the Tokyo Aquatics Center. Rising four floors high (with a fifth below ground), the venue covers an area of 65 500 m2 and required 50 000 m3 of concrete in its construction.

However, there is a silver lining to this cloud in that another unusual aspect of this Olympics is the large number of existing venues that have been retrofitted and upgraded, rather than being demolished and replaced. Indeed, three of the facilities being retrofitted were originally built for Japan’s last Olympics back in 1964.

Whilst it’s a shame that these venues will be largely empty throughout the games, the theme of re-use and retrofitting is certainly one positive aspect that we can acknowledge and apply elsewhere – even the medals were made with precious metals recovered from recycled electronics.

It’s going to require a similar attitude towards innovation and the avoidance of waste across industry for global climate and emissions goals to be met, and it’s exciting to see the cement sector making efforts to reduce its environmental impact. Perhaps the message we should take from the Tokyo Olympics is to continue, despite adversity, and make the right decisions for the environment.

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