Mizuno confident Tokyo has what it takes to host 2020 Olympic Games

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Persuasion is a powerful tool, especially when the stakes are high.

Exhibit A: Convincing a group as diverse and influential — and unpredictable — as more than 100 International Olympic Committee members may be the most critical factor in determining which city will be selected to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul are the finalists, and in the next 14 months much work will be done to make a positive impression to the IOC and promote the stellar aspects of each of those bids.

Retired Mizuno Corporation chairman Masato Mizuno summarized the objective this way:

“We have so much desire to have the Olympic Games again (in Tokyo) in 2020.”

As the CEO of the Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee, Mizuno is an enthusiastic, optimistic leader. Furthermore, the 69-year-old’s life has been enriched by continuous exposure to sports.

Mizuno, whose grandfather established Miuzuno Corp. in 1906, vividly recalled attending the 1964 Tokyo Games, during his sophomore year of college, and reminisced about that unforgettable experience during a recent Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan meeting.

“Working in sports, living near Osaka, we took the shinkansen to come to Tokyo and I was there at the Opening Ceremony,” he said. “Blue skies with the Olympic rings. I never forget. . .”

As Japan’s economic recovery ascended quickly after World War II, the 1964 Olympics were a powerful symbol of the nation’s rebirth.

Mizuno believed that the 1964 Summer Games gave Japan “so much hope and the dream for the future.”

Once again, that’s the goal.

“The times have changed, but we would like to give enthusiasm and dreams and hope again to all Japanese people; especially after the earthquake, people are facing some difficulties,” he said.

Between now and Sept. 7, 2013, when the 125th IOC Session is held in Buenos Aires to select the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, Tokyo 2020 will be broken down into five primary tasks, facets of the bid that are things to enhance along the way, according to Mizuno.

■ A good plan

Of course, that’s an oversimplified explanation. But the plan, Mizuno pointed out, is an upgrade from Tokyo’s failed 2016 bid.

“We lost, so we gained experience,” Mizuno said, reflecting on the previous bid, which was awarded to Rio de Janeiro. “So we kept the best and improved the rest.”

Such as?

“We are going to build a new stadium at the same place as the last time in 1964 at Kokuritsu Kasumigaoka (National Olympic Stadium in Shinjuku),” he noted.

“(In addition), the new Olympic Village will be in the center of the circular area of the Olympic Games.”

(The 2016 Tokyo bid had submitted a plan to have a new national stadium on Tokyo Bay in Ariake section of Koto Ward.)

A compact games is a big selling point, he said, with 29 of 31 Olympic primary venues within a radius of 8 km.

■ Increasing public support

A recent IOC survey put Tokyo-area support for the 2020 Games at 47 percent. Mizuno and committee members recognize that figure is too low. (According to the IOC, Istanbul’s support is at 73 percent, while Madrid’s stands at 78.)

“This is really a critical number, the figure . . . so we really work hard to raise this public support again,” Mizuno said.

“Forty-seven percent support (the bid), but 30 percent are in between (undecided),” he added, “so now we are trying to get more support from those 30 percent. We have some confidence if we really work hard the support will go up.”

Japan hauled in 25 medals at the 2008 Beijing Games. Bid committee officials believe that replicating that feat — or producing similar results — would go a long way in raising enthusiasm for Tokyo’s 2020 bid.

Or as a smiling Mizuno told reporters, “In the London Games, we must have many medals and then we ask all the athletes to help us (promote the Tokyo bid).”

Utilizing social media — primarily Twitter and Facebook — is a new tool for Tokyo 2020 to promote its bid while also capitalizing on as much TV air time (a 20-second segment here, 30 seconds there, for instance) as possible.

■ Preparation for the evaluation commission

The IOC’s evaluation visits of candidate cities are planned for next February to April. Before that, detailed plans — the three cities’ candidature files — must be submitted to the IOC by Jan. 7.

■ The presentation

This will included a technical briefing before the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, as well as at the SportAccord Convention next May in St. Petersburg, Russia.

And the final presentation, akin to a major academic examination, will follow this order: Istanbul, Tokyo, Madrid.

Each city will have 40 minutes for its presentation, followed by 20 minutes for questions and answers.

For South Korea, glamorous figure skater Kim Yu Na emerged as the winning 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic bid’s ideal spokesperson. Her graceful, charming personality wooed IOC voters.

Mizuno hopes Tokyo can emulate what the Olympic gold medalist accomplished.

“We need someone like Kim Yu Na, for sure,” he said, admitting star power is a key element for a successful bid.

“Hopefully some new heroine from London (emerges),” he added, suggesting a cute gymnast would be ideal.

■ Lobbying.

To convince IOC members to vote for Tokyo, Mizuno is convinced Tokyo’s selling points are follows:

“The total games will be excellence and excitement, that’s the spectacle celebration of the heart of the city. It’s wonderful. We would like to make a really wonderful games.”

He spoke passionately about Tokyo’s dynamic, vibrant economy and the rich cultural heritage of the 12.5-million population capital city and metropolitan area that’s home to 35 million.

By staging the games in Tokyo, the plan in place would create an “athletes-first Olympic Games,” Mizuno declared.

That’s the selling point of the compact games.

“Who is the one who makes the Olympic Games?” he asked rhetorically. “Not the officials, athletes.”

Under the proposed plan, all venues would be within 20 minutes from the Olympic Village, not counting shooting, modern pentathlon and soccer (Sapporo Dome, Miyagi Stadium, Saitama Stadium and International Stadium Yokohama).

Compared to Japan’s last Summer Olympics bid — Nagoya and Osaka have also attempted to do so in the past — Tokyo 2020 is relying on a smaller crop of consultants and public relations staff to deliver its message domestically and internationally.

In an official statement, Tsunekazu Takeda, the Japanese Olympic Committee president said, “With government backing at all levels, the support of the national sport federations, and the enthusiastic participation of the business community and general public, we have come together as a cohesive team. This spirited cooperation shows Japan’s passion for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Tokyo 2020 Games will embody the values of excellence, friendship and respect that the Olympic movement and the people of Japan share.”


Tokyo 2020 has earmarked around $75 million for the proposed budget, or roughly half of its planned expenditures for the 2016 Games.

Spending wisely and not trying to appear too flashy are goals of Tokyo 2020, Mizuno admitted while confirming the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has $4.5 billion in reserve funds that cannot be spent for the bid.

Instead, a private-public joint venture is under way, with the TMG providing half of the money and the bid committee securing the rest of the money from non-metro government sources.

“It’s not easy but we’ll try our best to raise the funds,” Mizuno said, commenting on the ongoing fundraising efforts.

Of the 38 venues proposed for use in the 2020 Olympics, 27 already exist; and the Olympic Village would later be transformed into available housing for the general public.

Financial logistics aside, will sympathy for Japan in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011 and the ongoing Fukushima nuclear plant crisis, be factors in IOC members’ voting?

Will it persuade them to chose Tokyo?

Or have the opposite effect?

“I believe that, sure, some of the people are very supportive and helpful for the recovery of Japan,” Mizuno said. “But at the same time, people know that the games will be hosted in 2020, which is eight years after.

“Tokyo Gov. (Shintaro) Ishihara mentioned that we would like to show how we recover from this tragedy. 2020 is eight years later. I think most of the IOC members think about the future (and) Tokyo will be no problem. . .”

Beyond that, Mizuno said, the Olympics can be a catalyst for positive change here.

“We promote the Olympic values, Olympism — excellence, friendship and respect,” he said. “Especially we are saying, 2020 is not the goal for us, but beyond 2020 we can make a wonderful society. So we would like to demonstrate the power of sports. We believe in the power of sports.”

Case in point: Nadeshiko Japan’s spell-binding championship run in the 2011 Women’s World Cup created “so much enthusiasm” in Japan, he said.


In Mizuno’s 23 years as chairman of his family-run business, an official Olympic supplier, his connections in global sports grew and grew.

U.S. track legend Carl Lewis’ 100-meter duel against Canadian Ben Johnson in the 1988 Seoul Games stands as one of the sport’s most memorable — and notorious — races. Mizuno sat with his younger brother, Akito, near the 70-meter section of the stands to watch the race, and afterward word spread quickly of Johnson’s rumored drug usage.

Johnson failed to show up for a news conference 15 minutes after winning the race, Mizuno recalled with sharp details during the FSAJ meeting. (Johnson was stripped of his gold medal and handed a lifetime ban.)

Mizuno has met dozens of sports and high-profile luminaries over the years, traveling to Olympic Games and attending IOC functions. Russian President Vladimir Putin stands out as a particularly impressive figure in his mind for the way he captured an audience’s attention.

“He (Putin) presented wonderfully in Guatemala at the IOC session,” Mizuno remembered of the July 2007 meeting in Latin America. “He made all the speech in English, including some in French, too, so that was very impressive. That’s one of the reason why Sochi got the 2014 Winter Games.”

A charismatic figure in his own right, Putin has motivated Mizuno to play a bigger role within the Japanese Olympic Committee.

Mizuno revealed he felt sadness after Tokyo lost the vote for the 2016 Summer Games during an IOC meeting in Copenhagen, on Oct. 2, 2009. That now serves as his — and Tokyo 2020′s — driving force for what lies ahead in the next 14 months, capped by the fate-making decision on Sept. 7, 2013.

“We must win the bid. That’s the motivation of my decision (to retire from Mizuno and lead Tokyo 2020),” were his final comments to reporters during the FSAJ meeting.

Note: The 2020 Summer Games are planned for July 22-Aug. 5.