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Ishihara was ignorant of fact Olympics bid never had a hope — and we must pay price


Ever since Tokyo lost out on hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics the local media has been discussing what the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) did wrong. In particular, they analyzed the presentations given by Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and a group of former and future Olympians before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Oct. 2 in Copenhagen, as if the presentations actually meant something.

Following the vote, Vice Gov. Naoki Inose appeared on TV Asahi’s Hodo Station in an agitated state, saying that Japan’s presentation was clearly the best among the four candidate cities, and claimed that he personally convinced the new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, into making the trip to Denmark. Hatoyama had made such a strong impression when he talked about Japan’s pledge to cut carbon-dioxide emissions during his United Nations “debut” that Inose thought he could bring the same persuasiveness to the Olympics proposal.

Regardless of his performance at the U.N., Hatoyama’s speech to the IOC was stiff and awkward, a combination of too little time with the text and too much self-consciousness to sound natural in English. The other presenters sounded equally if not more out-of-their-depth, earnestly selling Tokyo’s dedication to environmental responsibility and other beautiful principles.

Prior to the meeting, the Japanese press remarked on Tokyo’s lack of recognizable star power, especially given the fact that U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, were planning to make pitches for Chicago.

But they missed the point, which was clarified when Chicago lost on the first round, even before Tokyo was knocked out. Star power had no effect on the IOC’s decision because it was a foregone conclusion. What the media should have been asking is not why Tokyo lost, but why Rio de Janeiro won, which is easy to answer. Rio won because the Olympics have never been held in South America. Even the majority of NHK Radio listeners said in a survey two months ago that they expected Rio to be given the chance to host the 2016 Games for that very reason.

Now the media act as if they expected Tokyo to fail all along, and sour grapes is the main mode of discourse, as Inose’s grumpy defensiveness showed. Ishihara was even worse. At the press conference following the decision he insisted he did a good job, that his team “played well.” Later, safely back in Tokyo, he went further with this competitive reasoning, saying the Rio bid committee was involved in some back-room politicking with the IOC, a comment that immediately drew Brazilian ire. Which isn’t to say Tokyo wouldn’t have availed itself of such lobbying if it had the chance. An anonymous Tokyo official told the weekly magazine Aera that the governor knew some time ago that Tokyo wouldn’t win because the JOC lacks a “human network” with the IOC. In other words, they couldn’t wine-and-dine IOC members; not because its forbidden, but because they didn’t have close enough connections with the organization. The official revealed the Tokyo bid committee’s inferiority complex when he added that the JOC doesn’t have any members “with big, impressive titles.”

Doesn’t Ishihara’s count? Apparently, he was attending to his own inferiority complex, calculating the damage to his legacy if (or when) Tokyo lost. Getting the Olympics was to be the capper to the governor’s illustrious career, and if he failed, then he was going to fail in a suitably spectacular way. That, according to Aera, was why he was so insistent on recruiting the Crown Prince to promote the bid. Had the Crown Prince agreed and Tokyo lost, it would have been a huge embarrassment to the Imperial Family, which means Ishihara would have had to fall on his sword and resign to take responsibility — a true samurai’s end.

Though a famous nationalist, Ishihara doesn’t really care about the Emperor’s family except when they’re useful to him, and he had nasty things to say about the Imperial Household Ministry last winter when they turned down his request for the Crown Prince’s assistance. The governor couldn’t be as dismissive with the citizenry, which is generally seen as the main problem. Tokyo’s IOC ratings were supposedly the highest of all four cities except for one category: public support. Ishihara couldn’t gripe about the people without alienating them further, so he took his frustration out on the media, saying that it was their fault if surveys showed that few Tokyoites cared about the bid.

But the media have always supported the Olympics for the simple reason that the Olympics have always supported the media. The Games invariably pull in huge TV audience shares in Japan — the biggest in the world, in fact. The Japanese media may have been the only entity that wanted the Tokyo Olympics more than Ishihara did, so blaming the press doesn’t make sense.

Unless, of course, you’ve got something to hide, like all the money that was used to get the support rate up even while you knew you’d already lost for reasons beyond your control. The Tokyo bid committee spent ¥15 billion, ¥10 billion of which was tax money. And the other ¥5 billion, pledged by corporate donors, hasn’t even been fully collected yet. Communist Party politicians are also saying there’s tens of billions of yen in “hidden expenditures” that various sections of the metropolitan government spent on the Olympics bid, such as ¥10 million to develop a “Tokyo Exercise” regimen.

Apparently, no one is going to fall on a sword to take responsibility for all this wasted cash, including Ishihara, who insists he’s still got work to do before his term ends in 2011. He’ll have to find other ways of burnishing his legacy and is probably kicking himself for not getting involved in Japan’s winning bid to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which was a cinch as it has never been held in Asia before. Sometimes the secret to political glory is recognizing foregone conclusions.