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Is Abe using 2020 Tokyo Olympics to promote constitutional revisions?

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting on May 9, 2017. (Mainichi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's declaration that he wants to have revisions to the Constitution come into force in 2020 has raised questions over whether he is taking advantage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics for his long-cherished goal of amending the postwar supreme law.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dressed up as Super Mario appears at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro during the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics, on Aug. 21, 2016. (Mainichi)

"I strongly desire to make 2020 the year when a new Constitution is put into force," Abe said in a video message on May 3. He had previously mentioned his political goals by linking them to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

"We should use the year 2020, when the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held (in Tokyo), as an opportunity for Japan to make a fresh start," Abe said at a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting on May 9.

However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) bans any political use of the games, which is a festival for sports and peace. One cannot help but wonder whether using the 2020 Games as a springboard for constitutional revisions matches the Olympic spirit.

At an IOC session in Buenos Aires in September 2013, Prime Minister Abe said the situation at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant was "under control," emphasizing that countermeasures against radioactively contaminated water at the plant were effective. This in part led to Japan's success in its bid to host the 2020 Games.

Abe subsequently referred to the 2020 Tokyo Games as "disaster recovery Olympics." The plan to hold some of Olympic baseball and softball games in Fukushima Prefecture was reportedly decided based on the interest of the prime minister's office.

It subsequently came to light, however, that approximately 300 metric tons of radioactively contaminated water leaked from the crippled power station into the sea the month before the IOC session. The current condition of melted nuclear fuel at the plant remains unknown.

Sumio Konno, 53, a former Fukushima plant worker who now lives in public housing for disaster evacuees in the city of Fukushima, raises questions about the government's disaster recovery measures.

"There're no prospects that the nuclear plant can be decommissioned in the foreseeable future. Financial assistance for those who have voluntarily evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture has been cut off while trillions of yen is expected to be spent on the two-week Olympics," Konno lamented.

Abe also underscores the need to revise the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds, which would change conditions that constitute a conspiracy, before the 2020 Games. He told a House of Representatives plenary session this past January that "it's no exaggeration to say the Olympics can't be held" unless the law is revised before then.

Lawyer Yukio Yamashita, who is well versed on the issue, questions Abe's claim, saying, "The prime minister had emphasized that Japan was safe. Linking the issue to the Olympics is a leap in logic."

The Olympics has been affected by politics in the past. Nazi Germany used the 1936 Berlin Olympics to boost its national prestige, while Japan, the United States and many other countries in the West boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980 in protest over the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

The Olympic Charter states that one of the IOC's roles is to "oppose any political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes." A host city contract that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government signed with the IOC states that the games must not be used for any purposes other than for the benefit of the Olympic Movement.

Prime Minister Abe appeared at the closing ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August 2016, dressed in a Mario costume to promote the Tokyo 2020 Games. Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, head of the organizing committee for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, disclosed in his recent book that it was his idea to have Abe appear at the Rio Games closing ceremony.

However, sports commentator Masayuki Tamaki points out that "both the organizing committee, which planned Abe's appearance in Rio, and the IOC, which approved the plan, violated the Olympic Charter," as the charter determines the wording of declarations made by even the head of state at opening and closing ceremonies to eliminate political tones.

Still, questions remain about relations between the Olympics and politics.

"It's sneaky to talk about constitutional revisions by linking the matter to the Olympics," Tamaki said. "He (Abe) doesn't understand at all that the Olympics should be independent as a festival for sports. Politics should stick to its roles of supporting athletes."

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