The 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are coming to Tokyo, so Japan can expect greater global pressure to rectify the Fukushima nuclear debacle.
Experts on Monday credited Tokyo’s success over Istanbul and Madrid to the safety of the capital and its passion to hold the games. They also hope to see the Tohoku region rebuilt from the March 2011 devastation amid a rekindled spirit of revival in the run-up to 2020.
Indeed, impassioned pleas from survivors of the natural disasters and their hopes for what the games will bring may have helped tip the International Olympic Committee’s decision.
Japan now has its work cut out for it in the seven years before the opening ceremony.
“Tokyo was evaluated as a reliable place to hold the Olympics amid concerns over delayed preparations for the 2014 Sochi (Russia) Winter Games and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games,” said Fusao Misaki, a partner in the consulting division at Nomura Research Institute.
Meiji University professor Yasushi Aoyama noted that Tokyo’s well-prepared final presentation to the IOC general assembly paid off, including the powerful speech by Mami Sato, a Paralympian who hails from Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the cities devastated by the tsunami triggered by the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake.
Sato, who came down with bone cancer at age 19, said in her presentation that sports had the power to restore people’s confidence, including hers and others caught up by the disaster. Children living in the coastal region have been inspired by the thousands of athletes who have visited the region to participate in relief efforts, she said.
“I think the phrase ‘I was saved by sport’ in her presentation appealed to IOC members’ emotions,” Aoyama said.
The Olympics and Paralympics can contribute mentally, if not physically, to the people in the area who were hit by the 2011 disasters, he observed.
“It’ll give big hope to the people in the disaster areas. Some preliminary soccer matches are planned there, and the torch relay is scheduled to run through the area. I hope officials make efforts to bring positive effects to the people by holding Olympics-related events,” he said.
But the world will be closely watching how Japan confronts the catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, where three melted reactor cores and dangerous spent-fuel pools continue to pose a menace and highly radioactive water is accumulating daily, with some 300 tons of it flowing into the Pacific each day.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the Tokyo bid delegation in Buenos Aires, said in his presentation before the IOC vote that the government is “carrying out a program” to resolve the mess.
“Let me assure you, the situation is under control,” Abe said.
The prime minister’s presentation may have helped remove IOC concerns about the radioactive water issue, Aoyama said, adding that it is essential for the central government to take stronger initiative in improving safety and scrapping the crippled reactors.
“It’s now an international pledge . . . and the government is now in charge,” he said.
Misaki of NRI said the government also needs to better inform the people of the world about the situation in Fukushima. “Now that Tokyo has won the Olympic bid, the government needs to disclose information and reassure the people of the world,” he said.
Tokyo can take advantage of hosting the Olympics and Paralympics by introducing social changes, the experts said.
Instead of being an industry-focused metropolis, Tokyo should aim to be a center for the arts, entertainment and sports, Aoyama said, adding, “Tokyo should show the world a new model of a matured society, in which the quality of life is enhanced.
“The capital is already advanced in facilities for elderly citizens and disabled people compared with other cities, but Tokyo still has room to improve as a barrier-free society,” he said, noting that by 2020, the status of the Paralympics will be much higher and thus greater efforts are needed to promote the barrier-free movement.
Hosting the Olympics is also expected to enhance the nation’s passion for sports, the experts said, noting funds will be raised for new facilities.
Misaki of NRI said the big question will be whether the new facilities will continue to be utilized after the games.
“Past Olympics have seen venues left unused after the event ends. The Tokyo plan is compact, with 85 percent of the venues within 8 km of the Athletes’ Village. This may be a disproportionate concentration in one part of Tokyo. I would be concerned about the construction and maintenance of facilities in other parts of Tokyo,” Misaki said.
He added, however, that the Olympics could fuel momentum to create a government agency dedicated solely to sports.
Various ministries at present have administrative authority over sports.
The education ministry is in charge of competitive sports and sports for healthy people, while sports involvding disabled people fall under the jurisdiction of the welfare ministry. The industry ministry meanwhile deals with the sports business.
“In Japan, there have been discussions about creating an agency or ministry for sports. There are sports ministers overseas. There has been resistance against creating a new entity handling sports, so the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics could reverse this trend,” Misaki said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government needs to move forward in establishing a sports agency.
An organizing committee will be established by February to prepare for the 2020 Games.