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Japan Political Pulse: Japan should question wisdom of holding Tokyo Games

The Olympic rings are seen backlit by the afternoon sun in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

Of all the absurd remarks made by top officials of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the one that floored me was the one uttered by 79-year-old Dick Pound, the longest-serving executive of the IOC.

    He told the weekly Japanese magazine, Shukan Bunshun, in its June 3 issue, that even if Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan sought the cancellation of the Tokyo Games, it would merely be a personal opinion, so the games would go on as planned. This was Pound's answer to the question of what would happen if the prime minister decided to cancel the games.

    In Pound's statement, there is not a hint of consideration for the leader of the host country or the Japanese public.

    Why won't Suga say he wants to cancel the games? When I posed the question to someone who is familiar with Suga's line of thinking, they said, "Because so many people have worked so hard for it."

    I suspect that the person standing at the forefront of the "so many people" is former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He positioned the Tokyo Games as a pillar of his economic growth strategy. He spearheaded the effort to bring the games to Tokyo and succeeded, vitalizing the business world and the Japanese public. Suga served under Abe, and won the seat of the prime ministership with Abe's support. The personal ties that supported Abe's long, eight-year administration are still held together by the realization of the Tokyo Games. And because of this, apparently Suga alone cannot make the decision to cancel the games.

    The contract for the Tokyo Games is signed between the IOC and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government; the Japanese government is not a part of it. According to the contract, only the IOC has the right to dissolve the games. So in that sense, Pound does have a point. But if the national and metropolitan governments said they wanted to cancel, realistically speaking, it would be impossible to hold the games, and therefore, the prime minister is not powerless.

    Pound is a Canadian former swimmer and an attorney. During the reign of IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch (1980-2001), Pound assisted Samarach as vice-president of the IOC.

    According to "The Games: A Global History of the Olympics" by sportswriter and sociologist David Goldblatt, during the 1990s when there was serious corruption surrounding the Olympics, Pound was considered a glimmer of hope who would dare to undertake reform. He was pitted against Jacques Rogge as Samarch's successor, and lost.

    Pound has also said in an interview with the London-based Evening Standard's online edition that it would be possible to hold the Tokyo Games "barring Armageddon."

    What ruffled the feathers of Japanese people the most was a remark made by IOC Vice-President John Coates, 71. Asked in an online press conference whether the Tokyo Games would be held even if the city were under a state of emergency declaration, he responded, "Absolutely yes."

    Coates is a lawyer and a former rower. In an interview with the AFP in the fall of 2020, he also said that the games would take place regardless of the state of coronavirus infections. But now the sense of urgency arising from the spread of infections is different from what it was then.

    It was reported last week that IOC President Thomas Bach, 67, stated that "Everyone in the Olympic community has to make sacrifices" regarding the spread of the coronavirus. Bach, who is also an attorney and a former Olympic fencer from West Germany, debuted as IOC president at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. The aforementioned "The Games: A Global History of the Olympics" portrays him as an ambitious man who glorified the Olympics without any heed to Brazilian nepotism, corruption, the darkness of the real estate developers' world, and the collapse of public service systems.

    Due to massive financial burdens and doubts about cost performance, the number of cities that want to host the Olympics and Paralympics has plummeted. The Tokyo Games were the last to be decided by a vote seven years prior to the actual games by the 115 members of the IOC. Since then, host cities have been decided at the initiative of the IOC president, with the 2024 games set to take place in Paris, and the 2028 games in Los Angeles. Brisbane, Australia, has informally been decided as the host city for the 2032 games.

    The unexpected spread of the coronavirus made it abundantly clear that going forth with development that is largely dependent on the Olympics and Paralympics has greater adverse effects than merits. The IOC is not a public organization of goodwill and common sense. To expect a fundamental response from the IOC is like climbing a tree in search of fish.

    It does not say in the Olympic and Paralympic contract that the prime minister of the country where the games are set to take place cannot express any opinions about it. I don't want Suga to let the various remarks by IOC officials pass with a forced smile. I would like to see Japan question the wisdom of holding the games.

    (Japanese original by Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)

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