Because it’s never too early to talk about how expensive the Olympics will be, Tokyo Shimbun pondered the question on Feb. 6 and found out that no one involved has a clue about the cost of the 2020 Games.

In 2007, the organizers of the 2012 London Olympics already had a good idea of how much they were going to pay — the equivalent of ¥1.6 trillion — and from that point the British government checked and revised the estimate every six months, and then made the figures public. In the end, their projection exceeded the actual amount paid by ¥60 billion.

Everyone Tokyo Shimbun asked shrugged. Last December, when news outlets reported that the cost of the games would be about ¥1.8 trillion, much more than the ¥350 billion Tokyo claimed when it made its initial bid, Toshiro Muto, the head of the organizing committee, said, “We don’t have a comprehensive expense estimate yet.” To gain some perspective, the paper asked an expert on public works projects, and he said that new projections for the construction of some venues are already three times their initial estimates.

Running costs for the games exclusive of construction costs are to be paid out of donations and money supplied by sponsors, but if those costs exceed these private funds then tax money will have to be used. Whether it’s Tokyo revenues or central government revenues is another question that has yet to be answered.

Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe told Tokyo Shimbun that the games could cost as much as ¥3 trillion owing to increased security following last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris. He hopes to halve that amount, if possible, but in any event he’s adamant that the security burden should be borne by the country — not the residents of Tokyo.

The cost of the games is something the Japanese people as a whole, and not just the residents of Tokyo, should be interested in, but as it happens, Tokyo Shimbun is the only daily newspaper reporting on the matter in detail, and the reason could be that the four major national dailies are now official sponsors of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

On the morning of Jan. 22, the Yomiuri Shimbun, Nihon Keizai (Nikkei) Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun and Asahi Shimbun all ran front-page articles announcing that each had signed a sponsorship contract with the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC), though none of the articles mentioned the deals of the other three papers. The write-ups were more or less promotional in nature, with Nikkei declaring breathlessly that it “fully supports the smooth operation of the Olympics … so that Japan’s athletes can demonstrate their talents to the fullest.” The Asahi and Yomiuri, which editorially rarely agree on anything, both stated that even though they were sponsors they would maintain their journalistic integrity and fulfill the public’s trust by covering the Olympics fairly and without prejudice.

Sports journalist Gentaro Taniguchi wondered about these statements. He told tabloid Nikkan Gendai that the job of journalism is to “monitor those in power,” and here we have four such monitors “boosting an event in partnership with the state.” There’s nothing much you can do about TV, since broadcasters have to purchase rights to the Olympics in order to air the games, so they are already “part of the cheerleading team.” But print media? For the simple reason that they paid to be sponsors, these four newspapers, which are also profit-making organizations, will expect a “return on their investment,” meaning they will do what they can to guarantee that the Olympics are successful — so no negative coverage.

The Gendai article, which ran on Jan. 29, attempted to detail what it viewed as the hypocrisy involved. Together, the four newspapers paid the JOC ¥6 billion for the privilege of calling themselves official sponsors, which is one rank down from “gold partners,” who pay ¥15 billion each, but one rank up from “official supporters,” who pay between ¥1 billion and ¥3 billion.

What Gendai learned from a source at the Japan Newspaper Association is that the JNA, which represents the industry as a whole, intended to be an official sponsor, but its 130 members could not reach a consensus on the matter. The four most prominent members, however, “raised their hands” and were allowed to “work together,” so each paid ¥1.5 billion, though it isn’t clear what this cooperation will involve.

In principle, official sponsors are supposed to be limited to one company per business field or industry, so the JOC had to ask the International Olympic Committee if it was OK having four companies be the official newspaper for the games. Apparently, there was no problem. As former JOC member Ryoichi Kasuga told Gendai, starting with the 1984 Olympics the IOC changed the rules in order to raise funds mainly through broadcast rights and sponsorship deals. Understanding that this plan might result in runaway commercialization of the games, the IOC decided on the one company per industry condition, but over the years that restriction became looser in the rush to collect as much money as possible. Kasuga says the Olympics are now more about money than sports. That’s why the Japan Sports Council demolished a perfectly good national stadium in order to build a brand new one.

With the four major papers jumping on the bandwagon, there may be less scrutiny of the games over the next four years. If Tokyo Shimbun is the only outlet asking questions, they won’t have as much urgency as they would if the national papers also asked them. Gendai is national, but it’s a tabloid with a tabloid’s knack for sensationalism. During a Diet session on Feb. 4, an opposition lawmaker asked about the ruling party’s alleged campaign to muffle press criticism of the government, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe deflected the query by pointing to Gendai as an example of a news outlet that prints what it wants. Of course, that’s what tabloids do, sometimes at the risk of exaggerating a story, but maybe that’s the best we can expect.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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