In an interview appearing in The New York Times on April 26, Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose sullied Tokyo’s chances for hosting the 2020 Olympic Summer Games by violating one of the key rules of the International Olympic Committee — not to directly criticize competitors.
Mr. Inose spoke ill of Istanbul, one of the other finalist cities bidding to host the Olympic Games. His uninformed and unconsidered comments reveal a lack of sensitivity to other cultures and a poor understanding of Japan’s own culture.
Trying hard to promote Tokyo would be no disgrace, but Mr. Inose moved far past the boundaries of courteous conduct by claiming that Istanbul was under-developed and ill equipped to host the games. Mr. Inose’s comments tarnished the image of a rival city, breaking the rules and protocols in competing for the games. Those rules are taken seriously by the IOC Committee and the rest of the world.
No Olympic athletes would brag about themselves or belittle competitors, as Mr. Inose did. Athletes understand the hardship of training and pressure of competition. Their hard work teaches them respect for other athletes and the importance of following rules for fair conduct.
Judging from Mr. Inose’s comments, Tokyo’s physical infrastructure may be ready to host the games, but the governor’s understanding of sportsmanship is still in need of construction.
Other comments by Mr. Inose in the interview were even more reprehensible. He stated that for Islamic countries, such as Turkey, “the only thing they share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes.”
One expects a more refined, developed understanding of other cultures from the governor of the largest urban economy in the world. Istanbul is a rapidly growing city, while Turkey is perhaps the most secular of all Islamic countries. Mr. Inose seems to suggest Japan has no socioeconomic classes. He was wrong on all counts.
Mr. Inose also blundered through a series of questionable comments about Japanese culture. He quoted the long lifespan of Japan as an indication of a “stress-free” society here and condescended to the Turkish people by suggesting that they should create a culture like Japan’s if they want to live longer lives.
He also proclaimed Japan’s cultural uniqueness and superiority by bizarrely remarking that Tokyo is exceptional because the Imperial Palace is a “nothingness” in the center of the city, around which bustles a hive of modernized activity.
After the article came out, Mr. Inose tried to retract the content by claiming that Japanese is a unique language impossible to translate or contextualize. The New York Times answered that the two reporters who conducted the interview were fluent in Japanese, and that besides the governor had his own translator along with him. Perhaps Mr. Inose believed such comments would help promote Japan and Tokyo on the world stage.
Unfortunately they did just the opposite. His small-minded competitiveness lost face for the city and for the country. In addition to speaking badly about a vibrant and impressive city like Istanbul, the governor showed through his remarks that he is not yet quite ready to participate in international society, much less compete for the right to host the games.
The Olympics is a truly international event that prides itself on excellence, respect and friendship. Perhaps the governor could study up on what the genuinely competitive spirit of the Olympic Games really means.
His comments show he does not understand that yet.