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Japan Political Pulse: Clash of visions looms as Tokyo Gov. Koike looks to slim Olympics

The Gov. Yuriko Koike Show's latest act, "Rethinking the Tokyo Olympics," is no cheap political thriller.

    The tension at the heart of the story is built on a big-money question: Will Koike put an end to the profiteering by construction giants and marketing companies that usually accompanies the major international sporting event, or will she end up protecting it? If she intends the former, then Koike will have to overcome some very tall, very sturdy barriers.

    The action opened with Koike's third-party expert committee looking into the games' management pointing out on Sept. 29 that virtually every organization involved with the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics -- from the central and metropolitan governments to the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee headed by former prime minister Yoshiro Mori -- has been loath to cooperate with each other.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has seconded about 270 staff to the organizing committee, or over a third of the committee's some 700 workers. So, why the discord? According to Koike, who now has just over 70 days in the governor's chair, it's because it is "the same as the (former) Imperial Japanese Army's 'essence of failure.'"

    "Imperial Japanese Army: the Essence of Failure" is the name of a collection of essays analyzing, battle-by-battle, the Japanese military's World War II failures. First published in 1984, the book has been praised as offering lessons applicable to managing an organization in general.

    For example, the 1942-1943 Battle of Guadalcanal highlights how a difference in strategic vision between Japan's army and navy resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 Japanese troops. In short, the Imperial Japanese Navy was focused on winning a decisive naval clash in the Pacific, while the army prioritized taking territory in China and India. Japan's military lacked both cooperation and concentration.

    In the Battle of the Tokyo Olympics, what does Gov. Koike think is most important?

    "The environment, of course," she has said.

    In her 2020 vision, the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic venues would be scaled back to the bare minimum, and they would be built to be temporary. Once the games were done, the buildings would be disassembled, and the materials used to build schools, housing for natural disaster victims, and similar.

    In her Sept. 28 general policy speech on the first day of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly's session, Koike spoke of introducing the "mottainai" (regrettable wastefulness) idea into planning for the games, "instead of just repeating 1964 again."

    So, which direction is the Tokyo organizing committee taking?

    The committee's vision is "to leave a legacy to the future." However, this "legacy" appears to be a carbon copy of that left by the 1964 Tokyo Games, which is to say one that favors gigantic event facilities reflective of an era of speedy economic growth, and that's a problem.

    The expert team set up by Koike to look into the games' management has proposed rethinking three event venues, including the aquatics center. Organizing committee chief Mori had this to say: "Everything was confirmed at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session. It is extremely difficult to reverse anything now."

    This is the thing. This is the kind of pushback that needs to be questioned.

    On Aug. 17 this year, Brazilian police raided a Rio de Janeiro hotel room and arrested an Irish IOC director for the organized and high-priced resale of Olympic tickets.

    One root explanation for the scheme goes like this: It's easy to sell a lot of tickets if there are a lot of seats to start with. That's the reason why there's such a string push to build stadiums with enormous seating capacities. That is, international sports organizers are breeding grounds for scalpers.

    The IOC expanded into corporate partnerships in 1984 due to financial difficulties at the organization. Since then, cash from corporate sponsors and the sale of broadcast rights has poured into the IOC, and Olympic bids themselves have become drenched in money.

    Tokyo 2020 has not escaped this trend. French police uncovered a 230 million yen slush fund connected to the Japanese capital's bid. A halfhearted in-house inquiry conducted by the Japanese Olympic Committee concluded that there was no legal problem with the money.

    As the cost of hosting the Olympics and Paralympics has swollen, Boston, Rome and Hamburg have all abandoned bidding for the 2024 Summer Games. This fact is due to how the IOC operates.

    Furthermore, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee appears to be shutting its eyes to certain global issues. The decisions of the IOC are not oracular pronouncements of unchangeable fate. I would like to see Tokyo propose moving toward simplifying hosting the games. I hope very much that the difference in Olympic visions between Gov. Koike and the organizing committee does not invite failure. (By Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)

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