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Ishihara’s bid for legacy was Olympian waste of taxpayer money

by Jack Gallagher

I hate to say I told you so . . . but I did.

Just over three years ago, when the Japan Olympic Committee formally announced its ill-fated bid for Tokyo to host the 2016 Olympic Games, I called the plan a “pipe dream” in a column (“Japan’s bid to host 2016 Olympic Games a pipe dream” Sept. 17, 2006 Sports Scope). Truth and time have proven I was right.

Tokyo was eliminated in the second round of voting by the IOC in Copenhagen on Oct. 2, as Rio de Janeiro went on to become the first South American city to earn the right to host an Olympics. It was nothing short of a minor miracle that Tokyo even made it out of the first round, narrowly edging Chicago (22-18) for the right to advance.

The Tokyo bid, which spent ¥15 billion (the vast majority of which was publicly funded), had so many flaws that the term “Titanic” immediately comes to mind. Here are some of the major ones:

• Falling back on the tired tactic of talking about how much money Japan had.

This was an especially bad idea, as IOC members have still not forgotten the “Lie of Nagano,” when the night before the vote to host the 1998 Winter Games was decided, the JOC promised to pay the airfare of every athlete to attend the competition, only to renege on it later when the economy turned sour.

• Trying to make one of the selling points of the bid that it would be a “compact games” with the majority of venues and the athletes’ village located in relative proximity.

If this is one of your primary assets, you have to know you are already in trouble. It was a bizarre strategy.

• Relying on the legacy of the 1964 Tokyo Games by promising to use several of the same venues more than 50 years later.

One only has to walk across the uneven cobblestone outside the Yoyogi Gymnasium complex to realize what an awful idea this was.

Did they really think the IOC members wanted to attend events in nearly prehistoric facilities?

Come on.

It was worth nothing that in April, when the IOC inspection team was in town, and Tokyo was hosting the International Skating Union’s World Team Trophy event at Yoyogi, the Tokyo 2016 organizers didn’t bring them to the competition.

I wonder why?

• Proposing to place the main Olympic Stadium on the edge of Tokyo Bay near Ariake Colosseum.

Anyone who has ever attended a sporting event at Ariake knows that just getting to and from the facility by train is akin to walking in a wind tunnel. This was an absolutely horrible location to propose putting the so-called jewel of the bid.

• Having Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, a self-proclaimed nationalist, who has made racially insensitive comments in the past, be the face of the bid.

This one completely defied imagination. Putting a narcissist in charge of trying to secure a global event like the Olympics was nothing short of off the wall.

JOC President Tsunekazu Takeda, one of the classiest guys around, who knows how to maneuver the channels of the international sporting world, should have been the front man for this major effort.

The insincerity of Tokyo’s bid was almost shocking. All of this talk about a “green and peaceful games” was nonsense.

This bid was all about commerce, and don’t let anybody tell you differently. Trying to stimulate the economy is one thing, but doing it on a false premise of altruism is entirely another.

As the IOC vote showed, people still have a great capacity to see the truth.

A startling amount of money was spent on the failed bid, but it appears that most taxpayers are just shrugging their shoulders. About the same reaction that the majority of folks in Japan had to the bid itself.

• Underestimating the impact of the cost that national organizing committees would have to pay to bring their delegations to Japan and set up training bases here.

A fair number of the IOC voters don’t come from wealthy countries, so they had to consider the high expenses that would come with awarding the 2016 Games to Tokyo. The price would easily be more than any of the other three finalists, yet I never heard this issue addressed even once.

• The Tokyo bid did a terrible job of selling itself. Both the IOC and Japanese public weren’t convinced.

The organizing committee kept trying to offset the level of concern about public interest with results from Internet polls. Talk about dubious.

In three years I never heard one compelling reason why Tokyo should host the Games over three cities that had never had the Olympics before.

This was the essence of the case that had to be made, and it wasn’t.

What I found nothing short of amazing was how some media companies were sucked in and actually became cheerleaders for the Tokyo bid. Talk about a lack of objectivity.

Good grief.

Once again it was all about money and how they thought they could make a lot of it if Tokyo won. A very sad commentary indeed.

It is pretty obvious that Ishihara was the driving force behind the bid.

There has been talk about how he wanted to use it to improve infrastructure in Tokyo, but don’t believe that for a second.

He wanted the glory of flying around the world, wining and dining with big shots, and trying to set himself up as the Pied Piper, who was going to bring the Olympics back to Tokyo.

It was going to be a crowning achievement for him, but when the wheels came off, he tried to blame everybody else in that disgusting news conference last Sunday.

Takeda told me back in October 2004 that he thought “it was getting late to bid for 2016,” but then Ishihara muscled his way in and magically everything changed.

Japan has a real issue when somebody older, who is perceived as being higher up, floats a poor proposition.

The Tokyo bid is a case in point.

In most countries, somebody would have stood up and said, “Look, this is a bad idea. We should build some new venues first and try for the 2020 Games.” But here, a guy like Ishihara gets his mind set on something and nobody has the guts to stand up to him.

Now the result is in plain sight. Not much to show for that ¥15 billion.

The reality is that the Tokyo bid was dead on arrival. The only mystery remains why everybody but the organizers knew it.