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Mizuno best man to lead Tokyo organizing committee for 2020 Games

by Jack Gallagher

It is amazing how often the answer to a question can be right in front of you.

In this case I am referring to the decision about who should run the local organizing committee for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games (TOCOG).

This is not the job for a retired politician, bureaucrat, or a person who wants to sit back and delegate everything. This is a position which requires a hands-on approach from somebody who has been there before and knows how to connect with people of different cultures.

There is no need for handwringing over this decision. The best man for the job is clearly Masato Mizuno, the former chairman of the Mizuno Corp.

The heir to the sporting goods conglomerate has the knowledge, respect and experience required for the post.

Mizuno was the CEO of the Tokyo 2020 bid, an although he is now 70, he looks and acts like a man much younger. His energy will invigorate those working for him and inspire them to make the 2020 Tokyo Games truly great.

When I asked Mizuno about the possibility of him heading the TOCOG after Tokyo won the IOC vote in Argentina back in September, he politely declined to comment.

Attempts to get comments from new IOC president Thomas Bach about Mizuno’s potential candidacy were also unsuccessful.

In addition to having the requisite qualifications, Mizuno speaks fluent English and is very comfortable in the company of foreigners. These facts can’t be understated, as a person heading this huge endeavor should be able to communicate without requiring a translator.

As the face of the overall operation, the image presented is important. Mizuno has charisma and a good sense of humor.

He and his family have been involved in the Olympic movement for decades, and he was head of the family company for more than 25 years. This would be a crowning achievement to his very successful career.

Like Sebastian Coe and Peter Ueberroth before him, Mizuno will have the ability to deliver a product that is a winner both figuratively and financially. I just don’t see any other candidate in Japan that has the gravitas that Mizuno does.

Those who have had the opportunity to be around him can attest to how he lights up a room when he walks into it. As the point man for the biggest athletic event in the world, this is exactly what is needed — the ability to relate and motivate.

* * *

Pretty sad to see how the delay in responding to Major League Baseball by Nippon Professional Baseball has impacted the enactment of a new posting system allowing players to move to the majors.

There is simply no excuse for this type of behavior. Yet we see it again and again.

Every time the World Baseball Classic rolls around, there is a drawn-out back and forth about the division of revenue between MLB and the NPB players, with the latter threatening to boycott the event before eventually relenting.

In this instance the impending move of Rakuten Eagles star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is being affected by all of the foot dragging. It looks really bad all the way around.

The old excuse of culture will be trotted out, but in 2013 can this really still fly?

We are living in the digital age now where things are done at warped speed. To be unable to respond to an international proposal in a timely fashion is just plain lame.

The bottom line is that whenever this happens, it reflects poorly on Japan. Making it look like it is stuck in a time machine from decades ago. This is not the way to stay competitive in today’s world.

It reminds me of the old saying: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

* * *

A tip of the hat to the San Francisco Giants for their participation last week in the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s incredible effort to grant the wish of 5-year-old “Batkid” Miles Scott.

The young boy from the town of Tulelake in Northern California, is recovering from leukemia after first being diagnosed with the disease when he was just 18 months old. After completing chemotherapy treatments in June, he indicated that his dream was to be Batkid.

He got what he wanted and then some, as the City by the Bay was transformed into Gotham City for the day last Friday.

After freeing a damsel in distress on the cable car tracks, Miles proceeded to foil the Riddler in a bank robbery.

Then it was on to AT&T Park, where Batkid saved Giants mascot “Lou Seal,” who had been locked up in a batting cage by the Penguin. The day ended with him getting a key to the city from the mayor and a congratulatory message from President Obama.

We are surrounded by so much negativity these days that this tale brought welcome relief from it. It showed how compassion can unite people.

I found my eyes welling up with tears as I read story after story about the Batkid on Saturday.

* * *

Nice effort by the Samurai Blue against the Netherlands in Belgium on Saturday. Playing on a terrible pitch, Japan held the Dutch to a 2-2 draw.

Even more impressive was Japan coming from two goals down to equalize. This is exactly what the players need to build character and belief in themselves. Road matches against tough opponents in difficult conditions.

Enough of the past, when lower-ranked nations were repeatedly brought in to play friendlies against Japan at home. In sports and in life, the easy way is usually the wrong way.

* * *

With Kim Yu-na confirming she will skate in the Golden Spin in Zagreb next month (where Miki Ando will also compete), I am wondering what the officials at the International Skating Union are thinking.

This will be the second straight year that Kim has taken attention away from one of their marquee events — the Grand Prix Final — to skate in a smaller competition against lesser foes.

Last year Kim needed to do it to qualify for the world championships. This year it is to qualify for the Sochi Games.

This year’s GP Final will be held in Fukuoka next month, but many skating fans and media will be focused on what is happening in Croatia with the defending world and Olympic champion.

* * *

It was great to see John McEnroe come to Japan to help raise money for victims of the disaster in Tohoku.

McEnroe, who played a charity match against Kei Nishikori at Ariake Colosseum on Sunday, was making his first visit to the country since 1997.

The 54-year-old McEnroe, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, impressed Nishikori with his shot-making ability during the contest. What was even greater was that a full house of more than 10,000 people turned out to see the legend take the court again.

McEnroe is an athlete from a golden age who still understands that fans deserve to get the maximum effort they pay to see.

* * *

I like the philosophy that coach Masayoshi Manabe is using with Japan’s women’s volleyball team.

Even though it lost to both Brazil and the United States (the gold and silver medalists at the 2012 Olympics) in the Grand Champions Cup last week, Manabe has introduced new members in the squad while retaining some of the stars who helped the team earn the bronze in London.

This is both a progressive vision and a solid strategy for the future.

Like Hall of Fame NFL coach Bill Walsh used to say:

“Every season you either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same. And if you stay the same, you are getting worse.”