The CEO of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics says security is his greatest concern but believes Japan will be safe from the kind of mass street protests currently overshadowing this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Games.
“If I had to choose just one challenge from many it would have to be security,” Toshiro Muto told The Japan Times in an exclusive interview. “There are many threats of terrorism in the world. It’s not just a physical threat, but also the threat of cyberterrorism.
“The level of threat that terrorism poses gets more and more complicated each year. No one knows how sophisticated cyberterrorism will have become by 2020.
“To combat this, the organizing committee, Tokyo Metropolitan Government and national government need to be able to deal with it at every level. Cooperation is vital.”
Tokyo will take on the mantle of the next Olympic host city when Rio hands over the flag at the closing ceremony of this summer’s games, which will run Aug. 5 to 21.
Rio’s hosting of the event has been relegated to an afterthought in Brazil amid a major political crisis engulfing President Dilma Rousseff that has brought millions to the streets in protest.
The Olympics have proved to be a lightning rod for demonstrations in recession-hit Brazil, with many people angry at the billions of public dollars being spent on the event.
But Muto, a former deputy governor of the Bank of Japan, is confident that Tokyo can avoid similar scenes despite public concern over the cost of hosting the Olympics.
“The demonstrations in Brazil are down to the fact that the economy is in great difficulty and the government is in trouble,” he said. “At times like that, there are bigger things to think about than a sports festival.
“I don’t think that kind of problem will occur in Japan. Of course you never know what will happen, but I think the environment in Brazil and Tokyo is completely different.”
Tokyo 2020 organizers have managed to cut around $1.5 billion in costs by scaling back plans for the competition venues, but the games have nonetheless been accused of gobbling up public funds and slowing the pace of recovery in the areas affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
“If you look at it in isolation, labor costs have started to rise recently and I understand that could have a negative effect on recovery,” Muto said. “But I think a successful Olympics will help people in the affected areas.
“Until very recently, there were around 8 million foreign tourists visiting Japan a year. In 2015 it rose to almost 20 million. The government thinks around 40 million tourists will visit in 2020. Those people will not only visit Tokyo but places all around the country. In the areas affected by the disaster there are various tourist spots, so it should have a beneficial effect.”
The 2020 Olympics have suffered a series of embarrassing setbacks over the past year, with design issues still plaguing the construction of the new National Stadium and a logo still to be chosen after the original was scrapped last summer amid accusations of plagiarism.
Muto believes preparations are heading in the right direction and remains confident that the organizing committee is on the same page as its political partners.
“As the organizing committee, the most important thing is bringing in income from sponsors. In Tokyo’s case we are well on course,” he said. “We have more than 30 sponsors so far. Apart from that, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and IPC (International Paralympic Committee) have been visiting Tokyo to carry out their project reviews, and each time they say our progress is ahead of schedule. That’s great to hear.
“When it comes to communication, the relevant parties have covered a lot of ground, but there are a lot of things we still have to do. We can’t just be satisfied with what we’ve done. That doesn’t mean I’m not happy with what we’ve done, but you always have to be open to communication and new ways of thinking.”
Tokyo 2020 organizers launched a public competition to find a new logo last October, with a shortlist of four set to be unveiled early this month after an initial submission of 15,000 entries.
Muto believes interest in the games remains high, and he hopes to involve the public every step of the way.
“One way for the public to be involved is as volunteers,” he said. “At this moment, we think we will need around 80,000. There are different kinds of volunteers — at the stadium, helping out with different languages and in specialist areas such as medical care.
“Of course the organizing committee has to make the Olympics a success as a sporting festival, but that’s not where it ends. After that comes the legacy. One thing we are concerned with is how to touch the hearts of young people and how to have an impact after the games have finished. I understand the need for the public to be involved in the Olympics.”
French prosecutors investigating corruption allegations into the former head of world athletics last month expanded their probe to examine the bidding for Tokyo 2020.
Muto insists that Tokyo has done nothing wrong, and he believes sports can still contribute to society despite a recent spate of global scandals.
“If the stories that have been printed about sporting scandals are true, it’s very disappointing,” he said. “If they are, I’d like these organizations to think long and hard about what they can do to improve themselves. I am not aware of any such problems in Japanese sports.
“Events like the Olympics bring the whole world together and go beyond race and nationality. Through sport you have a festival of humanity and peace.
“In the future, if the Olympics cost huge sums of money to stage, it will place a big burden on the people of that country. If that happens, more and more people will speak out against it. It’s not appropriate to have an extravagant Olympics. If it’s an Olympics that avoids wasting money, then I believe it can contribute toward peace.”