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With less than three weeks to go, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are expected to be held under a less than festive atmosphere amid the coronavirus pandemic: less chatting about which athlete you’re hoping to see, which team you’ll be rooting for or which nation will win the most gold medals.

But it is said that every cloud has a silver lining, and one Japanese scholar believes the quadrennial sporting event could boost Japan’s soft power, bolstering its global presence, and also augment its “psychic income” — the pleasure and satisfaction of successfully holding the event.

“If Japan can manage to host the Tokyo Games as successfully as possible under the circumstances, it will improve its soft power and bring a variety of different (positive) effects after the pandemic is over,” said Yuhei Inoue, an associate professor on sports management at Manchester Metropolitan University in the U.K., in an online interview.

Soft power refers to a nation’s use of cultural and economic influence to persuade other countries to take action, rather than the use of military power, or hard power. Inoue believes a rise in soft power would give Japan greater bargaining power in various international negotiations.

Japan’s military power is basically limited to self-defense due to its pacifist Constitution. Its economic influence, meanwhile, has been declining since China overtook Japan as the world’s second-largest economy in 2010. Therefore, soft power has become key to maintaining its influence, presence and reputation on par with other major economies, Inoue explained.

“It could help Japan maintain its economic and social position in Asia, where China has already overtaken Japan and other nations are growing,” said Inoue.

The 38-year-old scholar says he’s neither for nor against the Olympics, adding that he understands the risks of going ahead with the sporting event amid the pandemic. But, at the same time, he says he wanted to foster a discussion about possible benefits it will have on Japan from an academic standpoint.

According to Inoue, the COVID-19 pandemic has minimized the benefits a country would usually enjoy through hosting the world’s largest sports event.

Normally, one of the biggest and most discussed benefits is the economic impact. Hosting the games attracts tourists from around the world before, during and after the games. Construction works for Olympic-related facilities also help boost the economy.

But with the pandemic, the economic impact expected from tourists during the games will be limited, if not nil, due to entry restrictions the government has imposed as well as organizers’ decision to ban overseas fans.

Intangible benefits are also affected by COVID-19. Hosting the Olympics usually brings about what is called psychic income, or a feel-good factor in academic terms, including greater national pride and the public experience that comes from being able to mingle with fans from around the world.

“But you can’t do that for the Tokyo Olympics, so then you’d ask, ‘Why do it?’ And only abstract conversations have been held. I think that’s one of the problems,” said Inoue, whose main research realm is how sport organizations and events create positive social impacts on local communities.

If through the games Japan delivers a certain success, that could arouse pride and confidence among the citizens of the nation, he said. But for that to happen, the Olympics have to belong to them — not just to the actual organizers, such as the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizing committee, the scholar stressed.

“If they are able to feel that they contribute to the successful hosting of the games as well, then there will be psychic income and soft power,” Inoue said. “The games will be ‘our event.’”

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