Former Olympic swimming champion Daichi Suzuki believes the launch of Japan’s new sports agency can help lift the gloom surrounding Tokyo’s preparations for the 2020 Olympics.
The government on Thursday established a national sports agency to coordinate administration ahead of the 2020 Games, naming 1988 Seoul Olympic 100-meter backstroke gold medalist Suzuki as its head.
The body will be charged with a range of duties, including looking after the general health of the population, improving the nation’s sporting success and sending coaches overseas to gain expertise.
But Suzuki must also deal with a series of mishaps which have plagued preparations for the 2020 Olympics, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scrapping the design for the main stadium in July and organizers withdrawing the games logo amid accusations of plagiarism last month.
The incidents have damaged public perception of the event, but Suzuki is convinced that he can help turn the page.
“It’s a new month and I believe that we can move in a new direction,” Suzuki told a news conference at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which the sports agency will answer to.
“The important thing is to listen to everyone involved. We also have to listen to what everyone who has been involved up until now has to say. It’s been pointed out that I don’t have much experience in administration, but I can speak to people who have expertise.”
“The new National Stadium has gone back to the drawing board and, in a word, it’s disappointing,” he added. “Construction time is important, and I hope we can build a good stadium for the athletes. We are using taxpayers’ money and we have to keep costs down, so it’s a difficult problem, but we have to see it through to the end.”
The 48-year-old Suzuki was until recently the president of the Olympians Association of Japan, chairman of the Japan Swimming Association, an executive board member of the Japanese Olympic Committee and a professor at Juntendo University.
“It’s my first day on the job, but there is a lot of hard work ahead,” he said. “Sure, I can’t deny that I don’t have much experience, but I want to absorb as much as I can and go about the job my way.”
The sports agency will have a staff of around 120 and will comprise five divisions.
Part of the agency’s remit will be to help Japan deliver tangible results in international competitions, but Suzuki believes sporting success is not always measured in hard numbers.
“Before 2020 we have the 2016 Rio Olympics,” he said. “I want to properly analyze things before we can set a definite target, but the most gold medals Japan has ever won is 16, in Tokyo (in 1964) and Athens. We have to improve on that number.
“The number of gold medals you win is an easy way to measure success, but if you look at the Rugby World Cup, just winning one game against South Africa has really raised the level of interest. Success is not only measured in medals, but how hard you fight and work as a team.”