Lack of vision, flair sank bid: experts

by Mariko Kato

As Tokyo lost the race to host the 2016 Olympic Games to Rio de Janeiro early Saturday, experts, while praising the bid’s promises of secure funding and safety, criticized it as lacking vision and panache.

“Tokyo’s bid lacked passion, it didn’t capture the voters’ hearts,” said Munehiko Harada, sports sciences professor at Waseda University.

The International Olympic Committee eliminated Tokyo as the host city in the second round of voting. Tokyo’s exit followed the surprise first round elimination of Chicago, the bookmakers’ favorite after U.S. President Barack Obama announced he would attend the vote in Copenhagen to lobby for his adopted hometown.

In the final poll, Rio defeated Madrid by a landslide, becoming the first South American city to host the Games and ending Madrid’s attempted comeback after losing the 2012 games to London.

Although Tokyo promised to hold a sporting spectacle that would have good security and low environmental impact, its three-year Games campaign never had a clear message, said Naofumi Masumoto, a professor of human health sciences at Tokyo Metropolitan University who attended the vote.

“Japan failed to explain ‘Why Tokyo?’ The vision wasn’t clear,” he said. “For example, although Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara talked about peace when he was initially pitching the bid, the concept later disappeared.”

However, Masumoto said that the Tokyo team, which included Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, did “the best it could” in promoting the capital and that there was a sense of severe disappointment among those who traveled to Denmark to promote Tokyo’s bid.

Harada criticized the team’s 45-minute presentation to the IOC, saying the speeches sounded over-rehearsed and lacked charisma. He also noted that Japan’s low public support for the event — put at 56 percent in an IOC poll in February — damaged Tokyo’s chances.

According to Masumoto, a strong candidate is expected to guarantee “hard” factors, such as funding. This means a bid’s real pulling power lies in its “soft” factors, such as emotional appeal.

In this sense, Rio’s bid to become the first South American host attracted IOC members early on, he said.

“In the technical report (in June 2008) when the final four candidates were decided, Rio was bumped up from fifth place to fourth so it could remain in the competition, and by the final report (issued last month), it looked to me as though Rio was ranked top,” he said.

But Masumoto warned that the IOC has taken a “dangerous gamble” in choosing Rio as host of the 31st Games.

“I think that they are waiting to see how it will deal with hosting the 2014 soccer World Cup” and are expecting areas such as security and infrastructure to improve in time for the Games, he said.

The bid for the 2016 games was a pet project of Ishihara’s and a heated issue in the metro assembly election in July.

The Japanese Communist Party insisted the budget for the Olympics instead be spent on urgent domestic issues, such as welfare. The Democratic Party of Japan, which became the ruling party in the Aug. 30 general election, voiced concerns about the cost of building new stadiums, although it declined to oppose the bid during the metro election.

However, local activist groups continued to criticize Ishihara’s bid and were relieved to hear the IOC’s ruling.

“Gov. Ishihara used the Olympics as an excuse to develop the city, and his budgets for projects such as building roads kept getting bigger,” said Masazumi Atsumi, a representative of the civic group No Olympic Tokyo 2016.

“Tokyo has far more urgent problems to deal with, including the Tsukiji problem, and the low public support showed that the citizens are aware of this,” he added, referring to the controversial relocation of the famous wholesale fish market to grounds discovered to be toxic.

Ishihara, who is unofficially endorsed by the Liberal Democratic Party and headed up the Olympics hosting committee, previously suggested he might quit the post if Tokyo failed to win.

Many of Tokyo’s infrastructure projects, laid out in 2006 by the metro government, were planned with the 2016 Games in mind. Some observers speculated the loss may take the wind out of Tokyo and lead the hawkish governor to resign.

But at a press conference in Copenhagen after the results were announced, Ishihara reportedly insisted he would not resign. City Hall declined to comment on the result.