Last month, a Kyodo News poll found that 80 percent of Japanese citizens favor canceling or postponing this year’s Olympic games. Today, Tokyo Olympic organizers vowed to hold the games in the summer.
“No matter what situation would be with the coronavirus, we will hold the games,” Yoshiro Mori, the Tokyo Olympic Committee’s president and a former Japanese prime minister, told the country’s ruling Liberal Democrat party on Tuesday. “We should pass on the discussion of whether we will hold the games or not, but instead discuss how we should hold it.”
When Kyodo News published its poll in early January, Japan was in the midst of its worst COVID surge yet. Cases have fallen since then, but they’re high enough for the country to consider extending its state of emergency. None of this really matters to Mori, who is used to being disliked.
Mori served as Japan’s PM from April 2000 to April 2001. A BBC profile from November 2000 described him as “one of Japan’s most unpopular leaders in years.” The piece also pointed out that he was “described in political circles as having ‘the heart of a flea and the brain of a shark’.”
Naturally, he was appointed to lead the organizing efforts for Tokyo 2020, even though he resigned as PM with approval ratings in the single digits.
The 2021 Olympics, though, may be even less popular than Mori. A majority of Japanese citizens and businesses are turned off by the prospect of hosting a global event in a global pandemic. And their concern seems… pretty reasonable.
Jules Boykoff, an Olympic scholar and political scientist, told Deadspin that the comments made by the head of Tokyo’s Olympic committee are blatant proof of a point anti-Olympic activists have been making for decades. “Olympic organizers are gifting grist to Olympic critics who have long said that the Olympics are primarily a massive capitalist rhapsody with sport as a convenient veneer.”
So, maybe bringing the Olympics to a city isn’t really about spurring global harmony through sport? I don’t think so, and neither does Boykoff.
“The fact that Olympic power brokers are keen to press ahead with the Olympics,” he said, “while a global health pandemic rages, pretty much says all you need to know about the role of money in the Games.”
And there’s a lot of money in these games. The 2020 postponement already cost Japan $2.8 billion. Now, officials estimate the price tag will go up to $15.6 billion. And assuming Japan decides to bar international fans from attending the games, they’re looking at an additional economic hit. That’s why Mori and the organizing committee want to squeeze every dollar out of companies like Coca-Cola and Toyota, both of whom are sponsoring the Olympic torch relay set to begin next month.
At this point, nothing will sway Mori and the Tokyo Olympic committee to have a viable plan B in case, you know, competition somehow gets interrupted by a pandemic. And, no, stop, moving the games to Florida is not a good alternative.