Jean-Loup Chappelet, a professor of public management who has long studied the Olympics, believes this summer’s Tokyo Games will mark a watershed in the way future games are staged.
The 68-year-old Chappelet, an emeritus professor at the University of Lausanne, counts Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi and other International Olympic Committee senior officials among his former students.
In a recent online interview with Kyodo News, Chappelet contrasted Tokyo’s first Olympics in 1964 with the firestorm of controversy that has engulfed this year’s games, originally scheduled for 2020 but postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Nobody was against the Olympics (in 1964),” Chappelet said. “The Olympics always had a good image in Japan but also elsewhere, the United States and Europe and so on.”
Even before COVID-19 entered the world’s vocabulary, Tokyo’s organizers had experienced their share of controversy. In addition to allegations of corruption during the bidding process, a plagiarism scandal over the original logo necessitated a redesign. Also, the blowback from the projected cost of the original stadium design cast serious doubts on the transparency of Olympic organizers.
This year, Yoshiro Mori, a former prime minister, was forced out as organizing committee president for making sexist comments.
Chappelet, however, said the games’ reputation had already been seriously damaged before the Olympics were awarded to Tokyo in 2013. The professor, who attended his first Olympics in Munich in 1972, said due to problems posed by security, terrorism and costs, “the Olympics started to have a bad name” and “destroyed the good image they’d had in the past.”
As for the Tokyo Games, officially postponed in March 2020, Chappelet thinks the Japanese government, rather than the IOC, pushed for the games to go ahead.
“I think it would have been the easiest for the IOC to cancel because they have insurance. The Olympics have been insured for a long time, at least since the 1976 Olympics as far as I know,” he said.
“But I understand the government of Japan, Mr. (Shinzo) Abe in particular and now Mr. (Yoshihide) Suga, do not want to cancel. I think it would hurt the brand of Japan if the Olympics were canceled, especially knowing that the next Olympics are in Beijing, six months from now. I don’t think the Chinese will cancel.”
The majority of the Japanese public has been against hosting the games for fear of the virus spreading further, and Chappelet said “it’s completely understandable.” However, he added that risk needs to be considered along with other threats, such as earthquakes and terror attacks.
“Zero risk is impossible,” he said. “(But) I understand the people of Tokyo are more afraid than the rest of the world because there will be so many foreigners coming from outside, from countries where the virus is still very big.”
Chappelet empathized with the negative public reaction in Japan after IOC Vice President John Coates replied “absolutely yes” when asked if the games would go ahead even with Tokyo under a state of emergency.
“Mr. Coates’ comments were a mistake, a total mistake, and the problem was it was not the first time. He made other mistakes in the past,” Chappelet said. “He’s Australian, Anglo-Saxon, they have different use of words, but the Olympics are universal movements, so he had to take into consideration different cultures.”
Chappelet believes canceling the games would have been catastrophic for athletes based on his statistics that indicate “most Olympians, 80%, take part only once,” while he expects the IOC to continue looking at lowering costs in Paris and Los Angeles by using existing venues to a greater extent.
“Tokyo bid twice and was chosen in 2013 when this policy of using existing facilities was not in place. So this is why I’m saying Tokyo is the end of Olympics where you build a lot, and venues that are not far away from the Olympic village,” he said.
“The ideal Olympics will be the Olympics which do not need to build too many facilities or none and just use the existing ones. This is what they are going to do in Paris.”
Chappelet expects the games “to evolve in order to continue,” with some sizable changes, as has been the case all along from the first modern Olympics in 1896, to what they are today, in terms of the sports within the program and the scale of the Olympic village.
“I’m quite confident the idea (of the Olympics) will continue. It’s a strong idea. You know, in ancient times, it lasted 12 centuries (from the eighth century B.C.),” he said.
“In 50 years, it will probably still be there, but quite different from what they are today, as the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo will be very different from the 1964 Olympics.”
“One thing that is almost sure is that the Olympics will go more and more to global cities, well-connected in terms of communication and transportation. … This idea of having events in existing facilities means it will be going more and more to cities which (already) have lots of them.”
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