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EDITORIAL | One Year On: Respecting the Legacy of the Tokyo Olympics

The one-year anniversary is the time to consider the tangible and intangible assets the Tokyo Games left behind and how they can help society in the future.

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The Opening Ceremony at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Flagbearers of host country Japan, and next host country France, can be seen as their teams enter Tokyo's National Stadium on July 23, 2021. (Phil Noble/REUTERS)

One year has passed since the Opening Ceremony of Japan’s second Olympics at the National Stadium. Normally, July 23 would be a glorious day for the Japanese sports community. What about this time?

The Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was held on October 10, a date that is remembered each year as “Sports Day,” a national holiday that is currently celebrated on the second Monday of October. However, July 23 this year appeared on the calendar as an utterly normal Saturday, with no mention of the Olympics.

It is perhaps natural that memories of the excitement and emotions brought by the achievements of the Japanese athletes are fading with time. However, what we are witnessing is a backward-looking assessment of the event as a negative legacy. What a sad state of affairs.

Postponing the Event was the Right Decision

According to the final report of the Organizing Committee, the cost of the Games nearly doubled to ¥1.4 trillion JPY ($10.346 billion USD) from the ¥734 billion JPY ($5.425 billion USD) that was originally planned when Tokyo’s candidacy was proposed. The fate of the new National Stadium, which was built at a cost of over ¥150 billion JPY ($1.1 billion USD), has been lost in the debate over its future use.

With such a huge amount of public money invested, it is only natural that transparency should be demanded regarding the process that led to the expansion of the scale of the Games, how the expenses were used, and the profitability of the event.

However, it would be shortsighted to measure the success or failure of the Tokyo Games solely on the basis of the amount of money spent. We must properly evaluate the tangible and intangible assets left behind by the Olympics and consider how they can be utilized in our society in the future. The one-year milestone presents us with an opportunity to think carefully about this issue.

Faced with the global crisis of the spread of the COVID-19 infections, the event was postponed for a year for the first time in its history. In addition to giving up the honor of receiving spectators from overseas, Japan was forced to make the difficult decision in principle to hold the event without any spectators, just before the Opening Ceremony.

If the event had been canceled, Japan would have been left with nothing.

Japan Took the Challenge

The decision by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to postpone the Games and by his successor, then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, to hold the Games, should be applauded. 

Japan took on the challenge of balancing socioeconomic activities and infection prevention in a global pandemic. The Tokyo Organizing Committee carried out rigorous testing and quarantines, and adjusted its efficient staffing to be compatible with the simplified scale of the Games. 

It should be a matter of pride that the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games were held successfully, without an outbreak of infections.

Family affair: Siblings Hifumi (left) and Uta Abe celebrate winning judo gold medals on the same day at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Power of Sport

Japan won a total of 58 medals, including a record 27 gold medals. The “power of sport” that inspired athletes in the midst of a pandemic should also be strongly praised.

At the skateboarding women’s park, we saw rivals praising the athletes who failed to perform their highly difficult tricks and rewarding them with hugs. They showed us the value of the sweat and tears it takes to get to the Olympics transcends all differences, such as national borders and race. 

Let us remember once again that it was sports that provided the source of the empathy that united people in those dark days of the pandemic.

Achieving an Inclusive Society

The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games also demonstrated that sports have the great power to change society. In the nearly nine years since it was decided that Japan would host the 2020 Olympics, the city has made great progress in making buildings, streets, airports, train stations, and other public transportation hubs barrier-free. Hotels and other private accommodations, as well as public places, have improved their communication environment.

In a short period of time, both the city and the people’s consciousness have changed in ways befitting a host country. There is no doubt that the Tokyo Games served as a catalyst for major social infrastructure improvements.

Lessons for Sapporo

Much of the criticism directed at the Tokyo Olympics has been that the COVID-19 pandemic deprived the Olympics of an opportunity to recoup its massive upfront investment. 

Also, despite the principles of diversity and coexistence, the Organizing Committee saw a succession of changes. Yoshiro Mori was forced to resign as Tokyo 2020 president, and other top officials left the committee due to comments that, among other things, could be construed as disrespectful to women. The behind-the-scenes turmoil was reported around the world as a disgrace to Japan.

It would be extremely unfortunate if these events continue to be remembered as a negative legacy that diminishes the legitimacy of the brilliant footprints left by the athletes.

The condition of the sports community should also be strictly examined. Before and after the Tokyo Games, scandals involving judo, badminton, and other sports organizations came to light one after another. These communities must intensely reflect on the folly of having undermined the value of sports themselves. 

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In a survey of Sapporo citizens conducted in March, less than 60% of respondents supported the city’s bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics. This is not unrelated to the mismanagement of the sports community.

Sapporo. (Photo by Agnes Tandler)

Showing Enthusiasm for Sapporo

What has the Japanese sports community been doing over the past year?

Regarding the level of support for the Sapporo bid, Yasuhiro Yamashita, chairman of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), said, “It will be difficult if things continue as they are.” But we want the committee to go one step further. 

That is, to show its enthusiasm for bringing the power of sports demonstrated at the Tokyo Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games back to Sapporo in the winter, and demonstrate sincerity in overcoming the doubts of those who are fed up with the chaos of the Tokyo Olympics.

Are the members of the committee prepared to show their willingness to sweat and work hard to sway public opinion? That is what we want to know.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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