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Tokyo 2020 organisers want 'Super Mario' Abe to remain involved

TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo 2020 Olympic organisers hope Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will remain involved in preparations for the re-arranged Games next year, despite his announced resignation on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talks to the journalists in front of the prime minister's residence in Tokyo, Japan March 24, 2020 after a phone call with IOC President Thomas Bach on postponing the Olympic Games amid growing concerns over the coronavirus. / Charly Triballeau/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Abe had been all but synonymous with Tokyo 2020, heavily involved in the winning bid in 2013 and dressing up as video game character Mario during the closing ceremony of the Rio Games three years later.

And in March, he announced that the Games would be postponed until July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Abe was very active in our winning bid of the Tokyo Olympics. He also made the difficult decision of postponing the Games by a year,” Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto told Reuters. “It would be very encouraging for us if he could continue to guide us in our efforts with countering the coronavirus and hosting the Olympics, even after he steps down.”

Games organisers have said the rearranged Olympics will be a symbol of the world’s re-emergence from the pandemic.

“I believe that overcoming that and hosting the Tokyo Olympics would of course become Abe’s legacy,” Muto added.

ESCAPE BLAME?

Pre-pandemic, association with the Games had not been entirely positive for Abe.

He scrapped the National Stadium design in 2015 after a public outcry over increased building costs, but the Games were still forecast to run up a bill of $12.6 billion.

The man who celebrated with Abe at the announcement that Tokyo would host the Games, former Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda, is now under investigation in France over suspected corruption related to the bid.

Since the postponement, support in Japan for the Olympics has plummeted, with one July poll by Kyodo News finding that fewer than a quarter of respondents wanted to hold the Games as scheduled next year.

David Leheny, a political scientist at Waseda University, believes the pandemic might allow Abe to retain his close association with the Games but avoid some of the blame if they do not go as planned.

“I do think there will be efforts made to make certain he is a very visible part of the Games,” Leheny said. “I think certainly he will be remembered for it, whether the Games go on or not.

Reporting by Jack Tarrant; additional reporting by Sakura Murakami; editing by Gerry Doyle

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