In 2013, when it was announced at the 125th International Olympic Committee session that the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic games would be hosted by Japan, nobody could have anticipated the circumstances that were to follow. The country was coerced into making the toughest decisions concerning the safety of its citizens and its duty as a host for one of the leading international sporting events. After almost seven years of preparation – with millions of tickets being sold and the perfect mascot and logo ready for the event – the Tokyo Games were postponed. This came in the wake of the devastating pandemic which continues to plague the world at an unprecedented rate. In this article, I will elaborate on the challenges faced by the country in the past year and analyse what is in store if the Olympics are to be held this year.
The past year proved to be tumultuous for the Japanese authorities who not only had to deal with the pandemic and endure the losses of the 2020 Olympics, but also deal with a fair amount of scandal and criticism around the athletic festival. In the early days of the yet-to-be-declared pandemic in February 2020, when most of the cases were confined to the Diamond Princess Cruise ship at the Japanese coast, Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for the Mayor of London offered to host the 2020 Olympics in the British capital. He claimed that London had the necessary experience and equipment to host it. These comments and suggestions were perceived rather negatively by Japanese citizens and authorities alike who did not appreciate the lack of confidence in the country’s competency to host the Games. What followed was a worldwide pandemic that disrupted the global order (and life as we know it), which ultimately led to the postponement of the festival.
The one year delay created a massive financial burden for the host country whose economy had only slightly recovered 2019. The Tokyo 2020 Games were an excellent opportunity for the country to make further economic progress, but the postponement of the event pushed Japan further into debt. Its debt-to-GDP ratio is estimated to have reached 266% in 2020, suggesting a prominent economic burden caused by the Olympic and Paralympic games and their subsequent delay. In order to help with the fiscal impact caused by the postponement of the event, the IOC set aside US$800 million in the early months of the pandemic in 2020. Since then, the delay in the Tokyo Games has resulted in further additional expenditure, bringing the total to a whopping[IK4] US$15.84 billion, and being declared as the most expensive Summer Olympics so far.
Apart from fiscal issues, the organising committee at the national level also came under criticism for sexism. The backlash around the sexist remarks made by the former Prime Minister and the former head of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Committee, Mori Yoshiro, only made matters worse for the host country which has been trying to strategize an effective plan to deliver the events. When asked about gender representation in the board during an online executive meeting, Mori’s blunt response indicating that ‘women talk too much,’ caused a commotion in the country, leading to an immense backlash by celebrities, and politicians alike. Olympics volunteers resigned in protest, with IOC releasing a statement to condemn Mori’s derogatory remarks, all of which ultimately led to his resignation. Yoshiro was soon replaced with a prominent female politician and former reputed Olympic skater Hashimoto Seiko. With the Games advancing closer by the minute, this incident led to a further delay in assessing and analysing this fiasco.
In addition to this, the longest serving Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, resigned in September 2020 due to health concerns - he has been succeeded by Yoshihide Suga.
The Japanese capital recently entered its third state of emergency, and its close proximity to the upcoming sports festival in July has left the world wondering if it could actually host it - as the country could face a harsh recession – according to Hiroshi Shiraishi, senior economist at BNP Paribas Securities.
With Tokyo expecting to welcome around 11,000 athletes from around the world, Craig Tiley, the chief executive of Tennis Australia advised ‘a far more rigorous program’ than what was intially being proposed. The concerned authorities have already cancelled the attendance of overseas spectators for both the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games to curb the spread of the Coronavirus in the country, with purchased tickets being refunded. This move gained massive support and empathy for the country, where the majority of the population is in the high risk category, with around 28% of the people over the age of 65 years.
So, what does this year hold for the world’s most prominent sporting event? Despite all the hardships, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, during the IOC Executive Board meeting, stressed Tokyo’s readiness. Both the IOC and the Japanese authorities mentioned that they would consider cancelling the Games if not held this year, which would make it the 4th time they would be cancelled since WWII. With less than 100 days left and the Olympic Torch Relay already in motion, only time will tell if the world will witness the grandeur of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics from the comfort of their homes.
Written by Shubhangi Misra
Shubhangi Misra is a columnist at DecipherGrey